There was nothing more important than taking three points last night. A good performance is always welcome, but winning after playing some way below par is also welcome. Winning after playing some way below par and very late in the game against a team managed by Alex McLeish, is more welcome than Johnny Beer and Fred Rum around my house.
Arsene pulled a bit of a surprise in the starting line-up, choosing to play Francis Coquelin at right back with Thomas Vermaelen at left back. Emmanuel Frimpong was given the Alex Song role in midfield while the rest of the team was obvious. And to be honest the balance wasn’t right all night. I thought Coquelin struggled a little bit, which is understandable for a central midfielder being played out of position, but no more so than Vermaelen who looked uncomfortable at left back all night long. And let’s remember this is a position he’s pretty familiar with.
Villa were able to fizz in crosses from both sides, with decent variation it has to be said, and while one or two were a little more dangerous than we’d like, Szczesny dealt with them pretty well. Up the other end we were ok, Theo Walcott was pulled back in the box by Ciaran Clark and the drummer from Culture Club pointed to the spot. Robin van Persie’s last penalty in the Premier League was at Old Trafford, a weak effort which was saved by David de Gea. His finish was anything but weak this time, he whacked it past Guzman into the roof of the net.
There wasn’t much more to the first half really. Villa seemed to content to let us have it and most of the game was played in the middle third of the pitch. The second was a different story. Obviously Alex McLeish reminded his players that this wasn’t Liverpool they were playing and there was no excuse for being utterly shit, and they looked a lot more lively after the break, pressing us higher up the pitch and putting us under pressure.
Their goal came when a long ball came to Vermaelen, he tried to head it back to Mertesacker but left it well short of the German. Already on a yellow he couldn’t go thundering in, Albrighton got there before him and put it through Szczesny’s legs to equalise. I’m not going to say Villa deserved it but the goal wasn’t a surprise. And they reacted well subsequently, putting us under real pressure and keeping the ball in a way we couldn’t. We had no outlet, everything was going straight back to Villa and we had to change something.
Tomas Rosicky came on for Frimpong and almost immediately we looked more assured and better on the ball. We forced a lot of corners but never really bothered their keeper. Arshavin and Benayoun came on for Ramsey and Gervinho and eventually it was the Israeli who made the breakthrough. From what was probably our 126th corner he got his head on it from inside the 6 yard box to score the winner. How nice to see a sub come on and make an impact and it was great to hear the away fans singing his name to the Na$ri song – no point wasting a good tune, is there?
That was enough to seal it, Villa weren’t helped by the idiotic Alan Hutton getting himself sent off for two yellows within 60 seconds, but then he is thuggish moron so I don’t know that it’ll be any surprise that the Sp*rs reject acted that way. Three points were all that mattered for us and it means we can go into the Christmas with our tails slightly up again. Afterwards Arsene said:
In the end we got three very late points that are vital for us. We were a bit unlucky on Sunday and today maybe a bit lucky. Overall it was important to re-start with a win tonight.
Our spirit is exceptional and that’s why we came from a bad start to the season to such a strong run. You could see that some legs were a bit jaded from Sunday, and some minds in the speed of the decision making. But we still kept going and there is an exceptional attitude and spirit in the side.
We might keep referencing the start to the season and it’ll seem obvious to say this but this is a game we’d never have won back then. We’re now finding the ability to win games in which we don’t play particularly well and with only a couple of changes from the team which played such a high-intensity game at Man City it’s no wonder we weren’t quite at our sharpest.
Obviously the full back situation is still an issue but we’re just going to have to muddle through for the next few games until any possible recruitment can be made. To be fair to Coquelin, he had a couple of difficult moments but was pretty solid in general. And how nice to see when he was booked the first person over to him was Robin van Persie who knows well what not to do in that situation when you’re a young player. Coquelin’s performance subsequently was thoughtful and disciplined.
In midfield I thought Frimpong showed why a loan move wouldn’t be a bad thing at all for him. We have to remember this was only his 3rd Premier League start and while youthful enthusiasm will get you some way to start off with there’s an awful lot to learn as a player. Mikel Arteta was fantastic though and showed just how important he is to this team. Both Rosicky and Benayoun both gave reminders to Arsene Wenger that they can do a job and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of them start ahead of the slightly leggy Aaron Ramsey in the next game.
However, you can’t do much more than praise the character of the team, be thankful for the three points, and hope we can now use the upcoming two home games to start building a bit more momentum. The two teams directly above us play tonight and someone, perhaps both, will drop points. It was so crucial we kept the pressure up.
Right, that’s that. Back tomorrow with an Arsecast of sorts. Till then.