What a difference a week makes. Hands up who saw this result and performance on the horizon as we filed out of Villa Park last Sunday afternoon, after witnessing our unbeaten home record washed away in the Brummagem rain. There, I thought not. Not too many of us eh?
And what a fully deserved victory our 2-0 success at The Emirates was. The last time we ventured into the capital, we were well and truly taken to the cleaners by Big Phil’s Chelsea, but there was never the slightest chance that Arsenal might inflict similar humiliation upon us this afternoon. We were in the driving seat from the off, and but for a series of wasted openings, including a weak Ashley Young penalty kick saved by Manuel Amunia, we easily could have gone in at the break a couple of goals to the good, whereas the blank scoresheet had us travelling Villans wondering whether we were going to pay dearly for the missed opportunities as the second half unfolded. We needn’t have worried, as MON’s troops continued to impress throughout the second forty-five, defending stoutly, controlling midfield, and taking the game to Wenger’s Gunners at every opportunity.
While it was as fine a team effort as you could hope to witness, there were some sparkling individual showings from the likes of Curtis Davies, Martin Laursen, Steve Sidwell, and Gabby Agbonlahor, the latters pace and ability proving a constant threat to the Arsenal defence, just as he had done at the same venue only last spring. Ashley Young too, enjoyed a fine game, turning the hosts rear-guard inside-out every time he ran at them, never allowing the missed spot-kick to dampen his confidence.
Clearly Arsenal skipper Gallas and his defensive cohorts hadn’t taken the time and trouble to read their managers article in the match-day programme, Wenger taking time to mention the threat that the Gabby/Ash partnership could provide to his team.
Arriving at the stadium, rumours abounded as to the Villa line-up. First John Carew was fit and raring, one supposedly ‘informed source’ advised us, then a couple of Villans who had travelled from Norfolk said that they’d heard that he wasn’t even in the squad, so discussion and debate was the order of the day as we took our seats, eagerly awaiting for official confirmation. Information duly forthcoming, the stadium announcer told us that Martin was sending out the following starting line-up, a line-up that we hoped could reproduce last seasons impressive showing at The Emirates, while going one step better, and return home to Brum with all three points as opposed to just the one:-
Brad Snr, Carlos, Curtis, Capn Mart, Luke Young; Stan, Stevie Sidwell, Gareth, Jimmy Milner, Ash; Gabby. subs:- Brad Jnr, Zat, Marlon, Salifou, NRC, Big JC, and Craig Gardner.
Walcott looked lively early on, but with Gareth helping Luke out, we were able to keep him relatively quiet after his initial little burst or two.
Brad fumbled a Fabregas effort, Curtis Davies bravely clearing before Gallas could snap up the rebound, but apart from that minor worry, we took control, pushing The Gunners back with our slick, incisive play.
Our performance suggested that we should have been ahead before Ashley Young was up-ended in the penalty area by Walcott on twenty minutes, referee Mike Riley pointing to the spot without the slightest hesitation.
With spot-kick expert Gareth Barry injured in the build-up, following a clumsy challenge by Fabregas, Ash hauled himself to his feet to take the kick himself, unfortunately sending in a weak effort that Almunia was able to parry, leaving Gallas to mop up.
Undaunted, we continued to push forward and impress, without being able to snatch the lead that our display deserved.
At half-time, talk amongst the supporters centred around our fine display, the general consensus being that this performance was even up a notch or two on the level of performance we put on here last season.
The second half got underway with Arsenal showing a little more resolve, without really threatening at all.
We defended stoutly, breaking with pace, and on seventy minutes, deservedly took the lead, when a superb inswinging cross from Ashley was headed into his own net by Clichy, just before Gabby would have met the cross and powered home.
Substitute Adebayor went close for the home lot, probably the closest they came all game, Brad Friedel making a superb save.
Then on eighty minutes it was game, set, and match, and goodnight Arsenal, Gabby finishing superbly after latching on to a long clearance from Martin Laursen, holding off Gallas to fire past Almunia.
Despite some five minutes of added time, Arsenal never threatened, and referee Riley eventually blew-up (some would say, ‘I wish’), cueing mass celebrations in the visitors section.
Only negatives of the afternoon? Bookings for Sidwell, Friedel, Barry, and Agbonlahor, the latter for over-celebrating (?) his goal.
Overall fellow Vital Villans, a superb performance, a performance not to be under estimated in any way.
Every player fully played his part, in a display that will no doubt have all the knockers and doubters of last weekend, and following the St James Park reversal come to that, now jumping back onboard the claret and blue bandwagon.
Maybe next time we are all only too ready and willing to hurl criticism and abuse at MON and the lads following a disappointment, we’ll all just take five, calm down, and remember that progress is very much being made, and while yes, we’ll still experience the odd set-back or two, that we are very definitely on the right track.
Right, bring on Manchester United!
As for marks out of ten, here we go:-
Friedel – 7
Cuellar – 7
Davies – 9 (MotM)
Laursen – 8
L. Young – 7
Petrov – 8
Sidwell – 9
Barry – 8
Milner – 7
A. Young – 8
Agbonlahor – 9