Arsenal vs. Aston Villa: 5 Talking Points on the Gunners' Thrilling Victory
A few could have predicted the outcome of this match at halftime. Arsenal were down by two goals. Mild boos accompanied their recess to the dressing room.
Whatever halftime talk Arsene Wenger gave the team in the dressing room worked. There was a marked difference in the team's approach to the game and in its movement in the second half.
The team not only dug itself out of the two-goal hole, they topped it with a third, the match winner. No boos accompanied the team at full-time. Cheers prevailed.
"Keep the Faith," read one banner on resumption. A timely message, one that Gooners of all stripes could do well to keep in mind.
Five points follow in the slides. They recap the match and provide a forum for discussion. I welcome your thoughts in the comments section.
If you are Gooner, then congratulation on a remarkable victory. If you are not, your thoughts are still welcome.
Arsenal Were Unlucky with the Two Goals in the First Half
Arsenal were a bit careless with the corner that led to Aston Villa's first goal. They should have anticipated the short pass and pressed quicker with two players instead of one. This might have forced an error from Villa.
As it happened, Arsenal were punished for their lack of anticipation.
High and deep balls to the back post are usually dangerous. You'd recall that's how Arsenal conceded the first goal against Manchester United last week in the league game.
It was a matter of the defense being out-jumped, and it could have happened at the other end. Arsenal had about three players positioned where Richard Dunne's header came from.
Once Dunne won the jumping battle, the only thing that could have stopped the goal was either for the goalkeeper to stop the ball—if fortunate to be stationed favorably; in this case Lukasz Fabianki wasn't—or for the header to go wide. It didn't in this case.
Any team can concede in this kind of situation. We should bear that in mind. That said, the goal could have been prevented had the players been more alert to the corner.
The second goal was a sucker punch, a counter attack. One could try to blame Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for not tracking back wide enough, but I think that would be unfair. Counter attacks are by nature dangerous. The best of teams concede from them.
One could say that Fabianski should have parried the ball into touch. Well and good, and in fact, goalkeepers are trained to do so, but remember, these are reactions. Goalkeepers don't have time to think about what to do. They just do it.
Darren Bent was fortunate to latch on to the rebound. Credit to him for scoring at an acute angle. Misery to the Gunners and Gooners. Arsene Wenger looked crestfallen at the end of the half.
I do not think the boos at the end of the half were warranted. Two goals down at the end of the half wasn't down to a woeful display by the Gunners. They were a tad unlucky I'd say.
Yes, they were a little bit tentative on the ball in the first half. You'd be if you've lost three matches at a stretch.
All in all they kept possession well, even if rather tame. Perhaps they could have converted one of their corners into a goal, corners, however, tend to favor the defending team 90 or 95 percent of the time.
Arsenal were a bit unlucky in this half; Aston Villa rather fortunate.
Robin Van Persie Deserved the Budweiser Man-of-the-Match
Scoring two goals from the penalty spot within a short interval isn't a mean feat.
There's a gamble.
Do I go to the next corner or not? If you do, the goalkeeper could go that way, having missed the trick the first time.
If you decide not to, the goalkeeper could gamble that you'd change directions and dive the right way. You, the taker of the penalty, as much as the goalkeeper are rather in a quandary of sorts.
So what do you do?
You fire toward the middle, rather high, and the ball is in the back of the net. Your team is winning. The crowd is wild, part of which just booed you. That's a tale out of fantasy, only it's real.
Robin Van Persie should be commended for keeping his nerves in a challenging situation to twice beat one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League under the same circumstance.
Credit to the entire team for running at the Villa defense to force the errors that led to the penalties.
Richard Dunne was lucky to escape a second booking for his foul on Aaron Ramsey. He should have been sent off.
Now it matters little; Arsenal won.
Full-Backs Proved Adequate
The icing on the cake was the return of Bacary Sagna from a three-month injury. He played only five minutes of the match, but the significance of this return outweighs the brief cameo.
One might view it as a metaphor for the team's return from death. It has been a bad beginning to the year, and the Gunners needed a victory in this match to revive the hope of anyone of good will toward Arsenal.
To have a full rank of full-backs out through injury is hard luck indeed. This has affected the team tremendously, not only defensively, but in the attack as well. Since the last full-back went down, Arsenal haven't been the same.
Many of the goals Arsenal have conceded since have come from errors at these positions. So there was a real concern that this weakness might be exploited by Aston Villa.
Thomas Vermaelen didn't have any incident of note at left-back, neither did Francis Coquelin at right-back, although Villa tried to target Coquelin, as in the December encounter, by putting Gabriel Agbonlahor on him in the early going, but the combination of Coquelin's tenacity and Alex Song's cover neutralized threats from this angle.
Kieran Gibbs is poised to return in the next few days. With full-backs restored, Arsenal should be a sharper team in the up-coming matches.
Credit to Vermaelen and Coquelin for holding the fort adequately in this match.
The Attack Shone in the Second Half
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may just be the symbol of Arsenal's renaissance. He was bright; he was quick; he was sharp; he was willing.
Andrei Arshavin has lost his place in the pecking order, which now may be in this order: Walcott, AOC, Arshavin, or Gervinho, AOC, Arshavin. What a story for the young lad.
Already, there's talk of him going to EURO 2012, and why not, if he can continue improving? His presence should push Theo Walcott to work harder, and there's no doubt he will.
Walcott looked dangerous each time he move forward. That was a good thing. Robin Van Persie dropped deep occasionally and always drew the attention of three or more defenders. I believe he should do this more often to distract defenders from other attackers, who themselves need to start scoring goals.
Walcott scored one, more from luck than from intention after his initial good work down the by-line looked to have petered out.
Aaron Ramsey added attacking threat in the second half.
In the first, both he and Thomas Rosicky were concerned more with looking for the through pass than with running at the Villa defense themselves. Their decision to do the latter in the second half paid off.
All in all, a toothless attack in the first half became dangerous in the second, and that made a great deal of difference in the match.
The Midfield Was More Cohesive
Credit to Arsene Wenger for drilling the midfield to work well, even in the absence of Mikel Arteta, who didn't come into the match until the 71st minute.
The trio of Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Song didn't work very well last week against Manchester United or the week before against Swansea City.
Here, Rosicky struck a better balance between sitting deep or climbing high. It enabled the team to control possession in the first half, even if albeit with no end product.
In the second half, the midfield played in the traditional 4-3-3 mode with the players taking turn in advancing forward. Song of course was the deeper player of the three, who constantly kept an eye on the right back position.
It was Ramsey's driving run that drew the first penalty. Before then, Ramsey should have scored after receiving a good ball from Robin van Persie.
The 1-2 formation in the midfield when Arsenal attacked in the second half disorganized the Villa defense, who could not handled five attackers running at them from different directions.
Kudos to the defensive player who maintain shape when Arsenal attacked, and to the midfield for modulating quickly to win back possession.
It was a good display in the second half by the team to come from behind to win. Credit to the fans who kept faith despite the gloom at the end of the first half.
Congratulation to everyone for a good win and a brighter and more sensible three days ahead. I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about on Wednesday when Arsenal play Bolton Wanderers.
As of now, Arsenal season is still better than the two Manchester clubs. Let's hope it holds out till the end.