That was an absolutely brilliant result. 2-1 away at Villa is fantastic. It is one of the toughest away matches of the season and we came through it to get 3 points. A lot of people thought we might get a point – me included – but not this Arsenal side. I worried that with Fabregas out we might struggle but the key to this was who else came back. However this team is at the start of a new era as Wenger said and they put the disappointment of Tuesday night behind them to get the win. The first half was similar to that of 3 years ago away at Villa where we were described as “the Football version of the Harlem Globetrotters” in our 3-1 win.
Hleb was outstanding tonight. The way he kept the ball under control and had an eye for a killer pass was as good as anyone. He took up great positions and was a problem all night; enough so for Carew to cynically end his game with a horror challenge (go back to McShane (Sunderland) and Noble at West Ham doing the same thing). He was in the withdrawn striker role and glimpses of Bergkamp came to my head. The ease with which he got space and time and then moved the ball on was brilliant. He played 60 mins and one amazing stat was that after this hour his pass success rate was 98%. That is simply brilliant. It was one of the best performances from an Arsenal player in a long time.
However this result came from a brilliant team performance. From back to front the whole team was awesome. Almunia was solid from crosses and his handling very secure. No wonder Wenger has tipped him for a Spanish call up. Our full backs also excelled. Clichy returned from injury to line up on the left and Sagna on the right. Sagna had young in his pocket early on and when he switched to the right Clichy continued this pattern. They were largely untroubled throughout. The most pleasing part of their performance however was their attacking play. Clichy made countless surging runs in the first half and the Villa midfield could not cope. Sagna on the other side delivered the cross for Adebayor’s header. He did it against Man Utd, Wigan and now Villa. The cross was sublime and Ade did with it what it deserved.
Toure and Gallas were solid as ever. Carew was a tricky prospect and they dealt well with him. They knew when to drop off and when to get close; only once did he threaten the goal and we got lucky here (Karma for the Hleb challenge?) Agbonlahor became isolated and I hardly noticed him due to their hard work. They made some great interceptions and tackles many times. When Kolo goes off to Africa we are going to miss a real leader of this team.
Wenger started with 2 defensive midfielders in Diarra and Flamini. Flamini was absolutely fantastic in a slightly different role. He was ordered to get forward as Cesc would and duly got his goal after brilliant build up play. He finished with aplomb as the Spaniard has all season and continued to get forward and had 3 good attempts in the first half. He was strong in every tackle and really got us going. Diarra alongside him controlled midfield and dictated tempo for most of the game. He kept things simple and was never beaten in a challenge. He repaid Wenger’s faith for starting him.
Rosicky did well at times but got lost a bit in this game. Once Hleb went off we hardly saw him and Wenger took him off soon after. On the other side I was very pleased with Eboue. I thought he should be given one chance to prove he can cut out the antics and let his football do the talking and he did it today. His skill was great at times and the link up with Hleb and Adebayor as sublime at times.
And then we had Emmanuel Adebayor leading the line and in the first half he did as well as anyone could have asked. He held the ball up, linked play and scored a real centre forward’s goal. He got up high and beat Knight to the ball to head past Carson. When he scores we do not lose as stats prove; we have never lost when he is on the score sheet. Today was no different.
We showed two aspects to our game today – first we had a half of sublime Football and then a half of gritty defending and hard work. Both are equally satisfying when you win this type of game. We worked for the three points; 6 points ahead of United with same games played, 5 points ahead of Chelsea with a game in hand. On to Newcastle next week in our Northern round-trip.