Well here we are, the early hours of Sunday morning. Been home for a little over a couple of hours now, and I’m still totally and utterly gutted.
Yes, we’ve conceded late goals on previous occasions this season. Tottenham and Liverpool immediately coming to mind, late goals that have turned wins into draws, draws that have actually felt like defeats even though we’ve picked up a point at each venue for our efforts. It`s a failing that we seem to have suffered from more than most over recent seasons. This latest one though was something else.
Where do I start? Maybe we should go back to the opening game of last season, August 2006, when we achieved the exact same result, thanks to an Olof Mellberg header, and a tremendous backs to the wall job that denied Arsenal the three points. Today my friends, this Aston Villa side was different class, a level or two above those brave souls who achieved a draw from the first competitive game played at The Emirates Stadium.
Yesterday afternoon at Arsenal’s superb home, I believe that we made a significant statement to the so called Premiership Big Four, and the rest of the Premiership for that matter, a statement that stated loud and clear that Aston Villa Football Club are well and truly on the way back.
What Martin O’Neill has achieved at Villa Park in what, twenty months at the helm, is quite simply remarkable. He has turned the club around. We are no longer a joke outfit, which sadly we had become during the latter years of the Ellis era, when several lesser managers attempted to salvage respect, and basically keep the club in the top flight. Not an easy task admittedly when one recalls the lack of support received from the boardroom. But that`s another story. Today I shouldn’t be looking back, far from it. I, we, should be looking forward and contemplating the very bright present and future that this great club of ours is now involved in.
Over the ninety minutes we were the better side. Quicker to the ball, inventive, generally in control, and while it was admittedly an own goal that gave us the lead on thirty minutes, it was a thoroughly deserved goal, a goal that our attacking game well merited.
Arsenal had started the brighter I think, Adebayor heading over a Fabregas free kick when he should probably at least have tested Scott Carson, followed by a fine Theo Walcott effort that our on-loan keeper did well to parry.
A superb through ball by Gareth Barry, the heart and soul of this fast developing team, found Gabby racing through on goal. It looked odds on as if we were about to take the lead, but our England under-21 striker delayed his shot, giving cry-baby Gallas the opportunity to get in a tackle and save the day.
Scotty Carson made a bit of a mess of a punch following a corner, his only mistake of the afternoon I hasten to add, but fortunately the ball fell at the feet of Senderos, and he sent his shot well wide of the intended target.
Fortunately for us though, he found his shooting boots a couple of minutes or so later, when he diverted a Gabby cross past England hopeful (well so I’ve read!) Almunia.
1-0 to The Good Guys, party time amongst the travelling support. Shaun Maloney, enjoying a decent and industrious outing, went oh so close to putting us 2-0 up, his effort fingertipped onto the crossbar by Almunia. Pity that one didn’t go in, that would have been game over I think.
Losing both Curtis Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker before the break was a huge blow, particularly the injury to the former, who we now know will be out for the remainder of the campaign. He has been very impressive since his arrival in the side back in late December, and he looked set for another fine performance at The Emirates before tragedy struck, following an innocuous looking challenge from whoever. It may have been our good friend Senderos, but don`t hold me to that. I haven’t seen any television highlights or replays, so I’m going just on the strength of what I witnessed, or thought I witnessed, first hand. More importantly, ‘Speedy Recovery’ Curtis, you will be missed.
NRC too had started brightly. I had in fact said to my good buddy standing alongside me, that he really looked up for the battle, and was playing arguably his best game for sometime. I haven’t been a huge Reo-Coker fan, but lately I have seen signs of an improvement in his performances. Then, shortly after singing his praises, injury strikes. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut I guess.
Just before the break, Cesc Fabregas spurned the type of opportunity that he was putting away for fun in the early months of the season, shooting over the bar, when it looked easier to equalise.
Half-time, 1-0 up. And very deservedly so.
Second half I thought that we’d be well and truly under the cosh. To our credit, we weren’t. We at least gave as good as we got, if not more.
Walcott, switched to the right, and having a good game for Arsene’s lot I thought (he’s come in for some criticism lately, but I thought he looked the real deal), brought a good save from Scotty within seconds of the restart, but we defended stoutly, with the ‘Great Dane’ once again magnificent.
Adebayor got in two or three headers that all went over, otherwise the home sides efforts were kept to a minimum. Meanwhile on the break we were threatening. Gabby’s pace worried them all afternoon, and while it has to be said that his ball control and the final cross often let him down, he was a constant threat. Big JC not only lead the line superbly once again, he turned his hand very impressively towards defensive duties as and when required.
Scotty made a couple of routine saves, Gareth got himself booked for crashing into substitute Denilson, and we still found time to create a couple of half-chances on the break, chances that maybe we should have done better with.
Into extra-time, four minutes of it (where did that come from?), and while those four minutes seemed to last an eternity, no way did Arsenal look capable of breaching our defence. Then,…well you know the rest.
Superb lads. An outstanding performance. More importantly, lets now enjoy and celebrate the fact that we’ve been to three out of the supposed ‘Big Four’, and have remained unbeaten.
Who says that AVFC aren’t well and truly back in business?
Have yourselves a great week. I’ll talk with you again next time we hit the road.
Oh yes, my match ratings:-
Referee Clattenburg 6
Would have given him 8, but where did those four minutes come from?