When Zat Knight rifled in a ninety-second minute equaliser I was left screaming. Standing up with TV remote in hand, I pondered throwing it against the wall, before choosing to wing in it into the safer option of the sofa. There was an overwhelming and painful sense of Deja-Vu that every Arsenal fan around the world was feeling, as the pretenders to the fourth Champions League spot ran to the corner in euphoric celebration, but at least we were spared the nonchalant arrogance of a certain Agbonlahor.
The first half of the match was a circus. Calamitous is a word that perfectly sums of the defending that was carried by the likes of William Gallas and Kolo Toure. Once again Arsenal were left bemoaning an injury, this time to Johan Djourou in the warm up, one of the only players to hit some form. Sidwell hit bar before it ricocheted of a statue-eque Denilson on the line. Nasri gave Milner half the park to hit the post and Curtis Davies floated a suave shot onto the bar. All this before Bicycle Bacary Sanga cleared off the line in the most acrobatic of styles. Then suddenly, out of the blue, Arsenal’s ever present Denilson popped up to calmly give Arsenal the lead and a samba dance to boot.
Second half and Arsenal were a different team. Abou Diaby morphed from a carelessly poor passer to a figure of passing dominance and pace, out running Agbonlahor on one occasion. Diaby’s goal was a thing of beauty, a true Arsenal goal. Blazing down the wing with a nutmeg before exchanging through balls with Eboue and stroking the ball over Brad Friedel.
It was after this goal that Arsenal reverted to the style of play that has all too often abandoned the team this season. The moves were fluid and passing triangles were appearing all over Villa park. Van Persie should have killed off the game by capping of another Diaby orchestrated maneuver, but the goal post was left shaking.
Arsenal were a team in cruise control, putting Aston Villa under pressure at will. The influential Diaby was everywhere and the intricate passing moves were not holding up. It was this majesty that made William Gallas’ tackle on Agbonlahor all the more infuriating. Penalty, then a goal that Villa’s second half performance did not deserve. The rest is history, once again Arsenal failed to deal with a routine cross allowing Knight to level in the most frustrating of circumstances.
Despite the immense, crushing and infuriating result there are positives to be taken from the Villa debacle. Simply look at the team that was on the pitch and a lot is revealed. Had we had a fully fit squad Song, Eboue, Diaby, Silvestre, Ramsey an Toure would not have started. As I have already mentioned, Johan Djourou, a player responsible for shoring up our defence, was injured in the warm up. Theo Walcott is out for three months, Tomas Rosicky has been out for eternity, Adebayor was suspended for the most ridiculous red card of the season, Gael Clichy was nursing a calf strain and Captain Fabregas is out for the hideous length of four months. There is not a club in the Premier League that has had to deal with the sheer number of significant and lengthy injuries to integral players.
Aston Villa were also without their captain Laursen, but have yet to deal with significant injuries to the talismanic duo of Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor or even Barry or Milner. Take away six of Aston Villa’s best players and I guarantee you they would not be able to put in a performance like the Arsenal team did. Tellingly, Villa have only used 16 players for the entire season, their injuries will come.
For me, the positive is that this team can clearly play and play well. Denilson and Diaby are often savaged by Arsenal fans and the Villa game served to show that they really have what it takes to succeed in the Premier League. We have to look at where the mistakes came from and surprise surprise they came from the back four. Kolo Toure was somewhat rushed into the team after being out for a number of weeks with a calf injury, and Gallas is still searching of his “joie de vivre”, in between learning which side of the attacker to stand on.
It’s easy to sit back and spout the same old complaint that the team is too young to compete, but who keep making the mistakes? The experienced players! The staring back four against Aston Villa had a total of 159 international caps between them. To put that in perspective the midfield had 40 international caps, and they had 5 players. So the consistent accusation that the young players are to blame for the demise of Arsenal appears to be completely unfounded. The Liverpool game was another one when Gallas should have marshaled the defensive line with more skill and tracked Keane before the goal. Meanwhile down the other end, Denilson, Diaby and even Song were putting in heroic shifts only to be thwarted by the lack of a striker.
For twenty minutes Arsenal’s football was spellbinding. The midfield was working in perfect harmony and churning out pure Wenger-ball. This was the work that was undone by carelessness on the part of the two most experiences players on the pitch, Gallas and Toure. It is them who should be subject to the barrage of criticism, not Abou Diaby or Denilson.
The Villa game was perfect in showcasing how important confidence is for this side. At 2-0 up Arsenal were a different entity and playing in a fashion that would scare any team in Europe. The injury to Cesc Fabregas will ensure that we will be seeing a lot more of Abou Diaby and fans should take heart from today’s performance despite the result. With the obscene amount of injuries before the game and the two during the game the performance was stunning.
In midfield there is definitely strength in depth, as the Villa game exemplified, the area left lacking is defence where Wenger simply must purchase another centre-back. In an episode of the ArseCast, the ArseBlogger talked to Alex Fyn, a friend of Wenger’s who revealed that Le Professeur had been on the tail of two defenders in the summer, and seeing as how we have two word class full-backs, I presume they were both centre backs. It is this interest that has to be followed up by Wenger, because it is clear that the midfield can cope. They did against Chelsea and they did against Liverpool.
With a struggling Portsmouth to look forward to and with our Fabregas-less midfield coming into their own, the only thing preventing us from getting the right results is the centre-back pairing.
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