A marvellous start to the weekend and a terrific way to finish off a pretty shocking November.
It wasn’t all exciting ‘top of the league’ stuff though. There was still the customary 30 minutes of wondering whether scoring three goals was going to be enough. That’s kind of the standard now isn’t it? I don’t expect us to ever keep a clean sheet and to be honest, even a 3 goal lead doesn’t inspire confidence of 3 points. We’re Newcastle under Kevin Keegan in the nineties. Everyone likes to watch us because we’re always going to provide excitement even if it is for the wrong reasons, even if it does mean that as Arsenal fans we’ve got nothing left to gnaw on… you know, on account of me biting away so many of my nails I’m now down to a wrist stump.
The game started off in pretty electric Arsenal fashion. Chamakh went close after some superb work by Arshavin.
We were shooting on site like Geoff had instructed Arsenal to do yesterday and we really put pressure on Villa in a sublime way. For once, we were rewarded for our superb possession stats. Fabianski launched a pretty poor ball from the back, two Villa players missed the ball, it rolled through to the little Russian who gathered the ball, powered down the field, cut inside his marker and spanked the ball low and hard into Brad Friedel’s goal.
Vintage Arshavin. The winter has not only brought us some pleasant sub-zero temperatures, it’s brough back Arshavin’s magic and for that, we must thank Global warming and all its festive goodness.
Samir Nasri nearly made it two within moments of us scoring when he was fed through on goal, rounded the keeper and only managed to hit the side netting! It was a pretty bad miss considering how well he turned in a tougher ball last week.
I didn’t fret though… super Nasri wasn’t going to allow this moment to reduce his confidence and subsequently his self-worth.
Arshavin chipped a corner to the back post where Nasri was on hand to rifle a volley into the back of the net! What a superb goal, what a familiar feeling… 2-0 up at half time… not knowing whether we’d come away with 3 points!
Well, the second half started off the Arsenal way.
Ashley Young broke free down the right, he cut a ball back that was cleared by Squillaci, Clichy blocked the second from Delfounso, Bannan picked up the ball, crossed it in, Squillaci headed weakly to the edge of the box, Clark positioned himself, Arsenal watched, he rocketed it into the top corner, we conceded.
It was a calamitous goal caused once again by a lack of communication. My gripe is that a holding midfielder is supposed to sit in front fo the defence, not in the defence. My second gripe is that you don’t wait to see what a Premiership footballer is going to do. You need to be first to that ball and we were far too slow. My third gripe is that John Carew was in the way and blocked Fabianski’s view. My fourth gripe is that Fabianski didn’t rush out to complain… nor did anyone else in our team.
When I managed a Sunday League football team, I decided we wouldn’t argue with the ref as it takes focus away. This policy was abolished after 3 games because we didn’t get any decisions. That’s two decisive moments that have gone the way of the opposition in 2 games… because we don’t fight our cause.
Would we collapse?
Arshavin played Rosicky through the middle, the Czech released Chamakh… the Moroccan beat Friedel to the ball and slipped it inside the near post. A brave challenge from a player Nik Bendtner thinks should be benched in his place.
There was still time for yet more calamity.
A Villa corner was flown about 10 yards out, Koscielny was beaten in the air despite having a running jump on Dunne, the ball alluded Song and Squillaci, Clark nodded it over Fabianski… Clichy and Nasri couldn’t clear it off the line.
Another clueless attempt at defending a corner. Another tense finish.
Lucky for us Villa never really threatened again. They didn’t have the bite in their game to give us a finish to fear. That’s not to say I wasn’t gnawing on my wrist stump right up until Chamakh picked up a deflected Denilson shot, floated a back post cross into Jack Wilshere who was perfectly placed to diving header the ball home.
Relief. Top of the league. Defensive concern.
What to conclude?
Well, I don’t feel as bad as I did after the Spurs game but I still have the same overriding concerns. We were utterly shambolic in defence today. Koscielny really is starting to look like a player who only has one year of questionable top class football under his belt. He was missing headers, losing battles on the floor and his positional play was all over the place. Would JD have lost a header to Dunne? I have my doubts. Jeez… I don’t even rate JD! That’s how worrying this young Frenchman is!
It’s not just him though. He shouldn’t be playing this many games in his first season considering he is a rookie. It doesn’t help that he’s playing next to a good Frenchman who doesn’t lead. It doesn’t help that the backline doesn’t seem to be drilled at all.
I know people don’t like to hear it, but Geoff pointed out the first team had 7 French players in it. That really is an obsession. Squillaci and Koscielny don’t appear to have been purchased based on quality, they’ve been bought because they speak the dressing room language. I can’t believe any manager in their right mind thought signing an £8million unnknown without Champions League or International experience was a good idea.
Give us some positive!
On the plus side, I did think Sagna was good today, he put his foot and head in the way at a few crucial times yesterday. He went forward well and it looks to me like he’s finally coming to terms with distribution in the final third.
Andrey Arshavin played his best game of the season. He wasn’t wasteful, he was direct and he worked hard right up until he was taken off. He bagged himself a goal and an assist. Welcome back Andrey!
Other notable performances were from Samir Nasri who is really looking the real deal this year. Since the jibes about his fitness last year, he’s come back a different beast. He looks powerful, he look skillful and in front of goal… he’s been deadly. Chamakh also impressed again. After a few ropey games, he’s refound his form and he came up with the goods under pressure for us today. He is everything Nik Bendtner is not. I was prepared to give our Dane a chance, I’ve backed him for years, but to be honest, I’d be happy to see Bayern or Juve take him off our hands.
I hope you noticed Robin didn’t get any minutes today. I told you he wasn’t working on his fitness, he’d had an ankle knock. Wenger protected him again today. Hopefully we can get him 100% before the United game in 2 weeks time. I’m convinced it’s our time to beat them. If we can snatch a victory against them, it would be hard to deny that against all the odds… we’re in the title race for the long haul.
Fabianski: Couldn’t do much for any of the goals. Concern that he’s punching at crosses and that his kicking has been a bit suspect. If he feels he has been wronged, he should be screaming at the ref, just like Jens would. 7
Sagna: Good going forward, solid at the back. 7.5
Koscielny: An absolute calamity today. He reminded me of Senderos at times. I feel sorry for him, he’s in the firing line and he shouldn’t be. This learning curve is steep, does he have the tools to climb it? 5
Squillaci: All over the place today. He is supposed to be our leader in defence and he isn’t. 6
Clichy: Sloppy passing and moments of madness continue to dog his season. When will Gibbs get a run? 6
Nasri: Super game, super goal. Loving Na Na Nasri at them moment. 8
Song: He sat back and defended for the most part of today. He did his job. I thought if anything he sat too deep at times. 6
Wilshere: Anonymous really. I know he’s English and we all love him but bar the goal you’d have to say he didn’t really have much impact today. He’s been pretty poor recently. Inconsistency is the burden of youth. 6.5
Rosicky (c): I thought he played well today. He looked fresh and hungry to impress as the captain of the side. 7
Arshavin: My man of the match. He caused problems all day. He was sparky, he looked fit and he was typically productive. I love him. You love him. We all love him. 8.5
Chamakh: Seems to draw a lot of criticism. I can’t help but think a lot of it comes from that Bordeaux video where they recorded all his misses. I think he’s got a great touch, he involves everyone, he works hard for everyone and he can finish. 8