Monday, January 30, 2012

Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2

The results matter most in the Cup games. Most of us were just happy to see Arsenal going through to the next round, however they achieved it. Two penalties and a freak goal. What an untypical way to win for Arsenal! We have seen legitimate penalties waved away time and again this season (some were even stronger cases than these), but we had two penalties given in one game! That's something to be mentioned. Has our luck turned? We would like to think so. Especially, Walcott's freakish goal epitomised the evening. How many times have we moaned about our luck this season? An interesting stat by Opta shows that Arsenal had the most number of shots cleared off the line in the Premier League in 2011 with 9 (incidentally, Per had his header cleared off the line by Ireland in this game). I don't know if the fact indicates that Arsenal were the unluckiest club of all the Premier League outfits or they took so long to shoot by the time they had done so the oppositions had all their players crammed into the goalmouth, but one thing is certain, which is that it has been very frustrating for the fans.

In terms of performance, our football might not have been as beautiful as it used to be, but the spirit was the key word for the game. The team displayed a great mental strength, coming back from 2 goals down at half time. They have pressed Villa very hard. The referee's favourable decisions helped the dramatic comeback without doubt, but it all started from Ramsey and Koscielny's closing down the Villa players, winning the ball and keeping going. The team deserves a full credit for their determination. The three goals in 7 minutes speak volumes for the intensity and urgency the team put into their game.

While much of the focus is on how lucky Arsenal were, statistics explain another reason why the team should deserve credit for their performance. Arsenal registered 12 shots on target as opposed to Villa's 5. Also, the North London club's passing success rate was a healthy 84.5%, right up to their high standard.

The scoreline invokes the old cliché, but Arsenal's first-half performance was not as bad as the scoreline suggested, apart from their lapse of concentration in the defence. They created enough chances to finish the first half a lot better, but as usual their attack was too slow. Still, we have seen improvements in the second half, which was encouraging.

Another positive from the evening was a number of players back from injury. Most notably, Bacary Sagna was in action for the first time in 4 months. Arteta and Henry also came off the bench. Gibbs will start full training on Monday. It won't be so long before we have specialist full-backs on both sides in our back four set-up.

Arsenal are awaiting the winner of the fourthcoming replay between Sunderland and Middlesbrough for the fifth round of the FA Cup. In the meantime, hopefully, Arsenal can take the momentum and belief into the Premier League, in which they have suffered three consecutive defeats.

Player ratings

Fabianski: 5
Unconvincing performance especially in the first half. I understand Wenger assigns the second-choice keeper as a Cup keeper every season in order to give them more playing time, but it was lucky he got away with his decision to rest Szczeny.

Coquelin: 7
He must have Wenger's faith, judging from the fact that as soon as he has come back from the injury he got his job back as the deputy right-back in front of Nico Yennaris, who impressed us with his performance against Manchester United. Coquelin took a more familiar position in midfield after Sagna came on in the 89th minute. He did OK as the right-back overall, but he should have been alongside Ramsey to stop the cross in, which led to Villa's first goal.

Mertesacker: 7
He should always be aware of the danger of the opponents' counter-attacks when he commits himself forward as he hasn't got pace. He was caught out by Villa's counter-attack, which resulted in their second goal just before half time.

Koscielny: 8
He was guilty for Villa's first goal by not even challenging Dunne, but he showed great determination to win the game in this match, too. Especially, he made a great run which led to the second penalty decision in favour of Arsenal.

Vermaelen: 7
He has venomous shots.

Ramsey: 7
Worked hard as usual, but his finishing still needs improving.

Rosicky: 8
Some regarded him as a strong candidate for the Man of the Match. He kept Arsenal's attacking ticking. Replaced by Arteta in the 71st minutes. He has still a lot to offer for Arsenal. Should be given a contract extension.

Song: 7
Did his job quietly as usual. Good intention to try to clear Bent's effort off the line, but he could not get back in time.

Walcott: 6
Did he recover his popularity by the lucky goal? He might not have known much about the goal, but he was at least in the right place in the right time. Missed other chances. Replaced in the 89th minute to give way for Sagna.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Another convincing performance by the 18 year-old. Has he established himself on the flanks in the first team in the absence of Gervinho? Replaced in the 89th minute for Henry.

van Persie: 8
Always reliable when it comes to taking spot kicks (except for odd occasions). After he put the first penalty in the back of the net, he went straight to the centre circle with the ball in his arm to resume the game. He must have learned a lesson from the Swansea game, in which we conceded a winner to the Welsh side when we were still in the afterglow of Walcott's equaliser. He was the Man of the Match in Arsenal's website poll, but if he is found guilty for the elbowing, it could hurt his rating for this match.

RVP will face no disciplinary action by the FA. 31 January 2012


Arteta: 7
Came on the pitch as a 71st-minute substitute for Rosicky. Good substitution. His performance usually goes unnoticed because of the unspectacular nature of his job, but his introduction gave Song greater freedom to go forward (Song's got those killer passes, remember? So it is a great plus). The Spaniard was sorely missed in the last 2 games. Now Jack Wilshere's lay-off looks likely to be extended, Arteta's presence will be even more important to us.

Sagna: 6
One of the 89th-minute double substitutions. Even during his cameo appearance, he showed what we were missing for the last 4 months. Good to have him back.

Henry: 6
The other 89th-minute subsititution. Van Persie went straight to him, who was warming up on the touch line, to celebrate Arsenal's winner. Henry is more than just a short-term on-loan player to help out the team on the pitch.


Michael Jones
I just thought that the name of the referee who gave us two penalties in one game should be noted. I am not implying that his decisions are partial or anything as even neutral observers agree that they were clear-cut penalties, but it was refreshing to see a referee giving us a penalty (even two!) for a change. Hope he will not put in too harsh a word against RVP.

Asked by the FA, Mike Jones stated that he saw the incident at the time and decided it was not worthy of punishment. Good man! He's my favourite ref.

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