Arsenal 2 (Cazorla 6, 85) – Aston Villa 1 (Weimann 68)
Man of the Match – Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
So, there it is. Finally, a small streak of silver linings among a fiercely out of control, outbound storm that was the defeats to Blackburn and Bayern Munich.
It was not ideal. It was not flashy. It was not even comprehensive. It was 3 points. And surely, a very important 3 points in the larger context of things. With Sp*rs not playing till Monday night, away at West Ham, and Chelsea away to Manchester City on Sunday, it was in Arsenal’s hands to close in on their fellow rivals, for the Arsene Wenger trophy. Pun intended.
Arsenal started with what seemed like a conventional 4-4-2, though it would hardly remain that way. With Sagna out, Jenkinson was recalled, while Arsene Wenger named 4 central midfielders, in Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud started up front.
Villa, battling relegation, welcomed back Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor into the starting lineup, to support Cristian Benteke up front. Ron Vlaar however missed out.
Arsenal started with better intent, Jack Wilshere thick in the middle of things. He ran clear in the opening minutes, but his shot was cleared by keeper Brad Guzan.
Moments later, he assisted Cazorla, who played in Cazorla. The Spaniard’s initial shot was blocked by Nathan Baker, but Cazorla’s second bite of the cherry was perfect, as it went in between two Villa players’ legs, brushed the palms of Guzan, and into the back of the net.
However, instead of taking the initiative and going on to score a second goal, Arsenal allowed Villa plenty of possession, and space to exploit. Szczesny parried an Agbonlahor shot, before the Villains failed to take advantage of a host of chances, first when N’Zogbia’s cross went unchallenged across the Arsenal goal.
Monreal had his Santos moment, when Weimann’s cross in from the right was met by N’Zogbia, but Szczesny made a good save. Arsenal could have had their second, but for Giroud’s low shot being saved by Guzan.
Wilshere blasted his chance over, after being set up deftly by Giroud. Walcott saw his left footed effort narrowly go over the far corner. Arsenal were suddenly playing some silky stuff, as a Wilshere-Cazorla-Giroud triangle almost resulted in a goal, but for an alert Guzan.
Villa had a chance early in the second half, when Ciaran Clarke met Ashley Westwood’s corner, but his effort went over. At the other end, Giroud was guilty of wasting several chances to score a decisive second for Arsenal.
Abou Diaby customarily hobbled off, which should mean his season is surely over. Aaron Ramsey replaced him. Monreal and Jenkinson played in some crosses, but they were either too high for Giroud, or too far away to make a proper connection.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties were exposed when a poor defensive header by Carl Jenkinson was inter played by N’Zogbia and Weimann, before the Austrian ran unchallenged to shoot past Szczesny from long range. It really should have been saved by the Pole.
With time running out, and a fan implosion looming large, Podolski was bought on to replace Jenkinson. A flurry of corners resulted in little, until Giroud almost saw his powerful header go in, before an acrobatic save from Guzan. Mertesacker’s effort off the ensuing corner went out tamely.
With barely 5 minutes of regulation time left, Arsenal finally got the breakthrough, as Monreal surged clear of Villa’s defence, and his accurately timed pass, fell right into the path of Cazorla, who left-footed it past Guzan.
The last few minutes were a bundle of nerves, but Arsenal held on to record a 3rd consecutive league win.
Let’s focus on the positives, then. First, Santi Cazorla, who was all over the place literally. After a subdued performance against the Bavarians, the Spaniard put in a delightful and hard-working shift. He was on the left, on the right and the centre, and being the main hub of creativity.
Wilshere looked a bit subdued, probably fatigue taking its toll. Hopefully, he will get a good week’s rest to recharge his batteries. He made a couple of good surging runs, but he needs to work on his final ball, which has often tended to go wasted.
Defensively, there were several nervous moments, and screwing up needs to be done. Monreal looked solid, but Vermaelen and Mertesacker had their nervous moments. Jenkinson had a good game, but is prone to errors.
Diaby often slowed the game, despite his presence on the ball being good. That has often been a complaint, but by the looks of it, we may not get to see much of him this season, considering his history with injuries. Arteta was anonymous in the first half. I couldn’t remember spotting him, until he finally got the ball on the right wing. Was he playing there all the time? I am confused.
His presence was much more visible in the second half, but there were clear signs that he may not be the solution to our defensive midfield issues. Walcott was average, apart from a couple of moments. Giroud worked immensely hard, but his finishing sure needs some working on.
All in all, 3 points at the end of the day is more important than the way you played. There’s no joy in dominating the daylights off the opposition, if you end up drawing/losing the game!
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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