Arsenal 3 (van Persie 54(pen), 61(pen), Walcott 57) – 2 Aston Villa (Dunne 33, Bent 46)
Man of the Match – Robin van Persie (Arsenal)
Finally, something to smile about for me. After a miserable month, some respite.
I had come to know just hours before the game, that it wouldn’t be telecasted live on that screwed up channel Sony Pix. I tried to make alternate arrangements, but to no avail. At the end, I was doomed to follow the game by the BBC Live Text, and Livescore.com. But, the game turned out to be so good, I woke up at 1:30 AM, to watch the replay.
Much of the pre-match talk surrounding the Gunners was about the downfall in the club’s fortunes in the month of January. A spectacular collapse had seen them drop 3 games in the league, and 5 points adrift of 4th placed Chelsea. And, to make matters worse, many fans were calling for the head of Arsene Wenger, after he had bought off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and replaced him with Andriy Arshavin, something that turned the tide against his own team, and consigned them to a defeat at the hands of rival Manchester United.
Alex McLeish, who 12 months earlier, famously beat Wenger’s men in the League Cup final, with Birmingham City, bought his Villa side, full of confidence after a 3-2 win at Wolves, a week earlier. New loan signing Robbie Keane had a major impact, scoring two wonderful goals in that game. And on the bounce of that, Villa started with a three-prong strike partnership of Agbonlahor-Keane-Bent.
Arsenal welcomed back a host of injured players. Francis Coquelin started at right-back, replacing Johan Djourou and Nico Yennaris. Bacary Sagna, Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were all named on the bench.
Arsenal did all the initial running. Theo Walcott missed a glorious early chance. Then, Thomas Vermaelen’s lashing shot was brilliantly saved by Shay Given. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, running high on confidence after his sparkling display last week, was on electric form again, as he gave the Villa defence a host of problems, with his pace and skills. He, too, however, flashed a chance wide.
But, soon Villa started to get a grip of the game. Agbonlahor started to create a few problems for Coquelin. Villa woked a good corner routine, and Richard Dunne rose highest in a packed penalty box to head Villa ahead. Arsenal responded with some well-worked passing, but soon they were 2-0 down. Darren Bent scored from a narrow angle, after his initial shot was well-blocked by Fabianski.
The Gunners made their way back to the dressing room at half-time with a chorus of boos ringing in their ears. Wenger must’ve worked some magic in the dressing room. Probably, even taken the help of stalwart Thierry Henry, as Arsenal were a completely different team in the second half.
Alex Song’s lovely pass was chased down by Aaron Ramsey, who, in turn, was hacked down by Richard Dunne. He was lucky to stay on the pitch and escaped with just a yellow. Robin van Persie emphatically scored the ensuing penalty.
Minutes later, a darting run from Theo Walcott proved productive, as his shot was met with Alan Hutton’s clearance, back to Walcott, after which it rolled into the net. Walcott didn’t know much of it, but it didn’t matter as the game was back to Square One.
Laurent Koscielny then showed a burst of pace, as his run, saw him in the Villa penalty box, where he was bought down by Darren Bent. van Persie stepped up again and scored the winner.
Arsenal had turned the tie in the space of 7 minutes. A stunned Villa did fashion some chances towards the end, but the Gunners held on for a fine Cup win, only just.
Next up, in the FA Cup, a trip to the north-east, Sunderland or Middlesbrough.
Fabianski (7) – A decent display from the Pole.
Coquelin (7.5) – Another fine performance, out of position
Mertesacker (7.5) – A commanding figure. Still needs to win more headers.
Koscielny (7.5) – Could have done better with both goals conceded.
Vermaelen (7) – Again, could have done better with both goals conceded.
Song (7.5) – A commanding figure in the centre of midfield.
Ramsey (8) – Was at the centre of everything good about Arsenal yesterday.
Rosicky (8) – At 31, he still runs like a 18 year old. Good play by the Czech midfielder.
Walcott (8) – Created lots of problems for the Villa defence.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (8.5) – Another electric performance.
van Persie (8.5) – Scored two penalties, that eventually won the game.
Arteta (7.5) – Good to see him back.
Henry and Sagna – Good to see them back too. Came on too late to get a rating
Overall Team Rating – 7.70