Thursday, 22 December 2011

Brilliant Benayoun saves Vermaelen's blushes as below par Arsenal beat Villa

Morning Gooners.

Football is a funny old game, as they say. Turn the clock back to February and Alex McLeish's Birmingham side were snatching a last minute victory which they didn't deserve. Last night we got our own back on McLeish and his Aston Villa team when Yossi Benayoun pounced at the death to ensure we took all three points back to north London and cemented our place at fifth in the table before the Christmas fixtures.

There was nothing magical about this Arsenal performance. Although the result was exactly what we needed. Coming so quickly after the defeat at Manchester City, it was a game where we once again needed to reorganise the team to accommodate the suspension of Alex Song and the injury to Johan Djourou. Wenger did this by handing a start to Emmanuel Frimpong in the deep-lying midfield role in place of Song and at right back, Djourou's spot was taken by Francis Coquelin.

These changes meant we didn't start the game well. Villa with the better of the opening chances and Wojciech Szczesny had to be at his best to palm away Gabriel Agbonlahor's header inside the first ten minutes of the game.

But the Gunners came back and took the lead against the run of play. Theo Walcott turned cleverly inside the box and was pulled back by Ciaran Clark. Referee Jon Moss awarded the spot kick which van Persie duly dispatched high into the net to record his 34th goal in 34 matches - an achievement which has drawn him level with Thierry Henry's calendar year goal scoring record. The Dutchman needs to score twice more with two games to go of 2011 to equal Alan Shearer's haul of 36 within 12 months.

Within minutes of the restart we should have had a second. Walcott causing the problems again but his shot was deflected by the Villa keeper. A great chance then fell to Aaron Ramsey after good work from Gervinho and van Persie. The Welshman was in space and had time to pick out a shot but rushed his decision and fired wide with a defender closing him down.

We left the field at half time with a goal advantage but knowing this Villa team could and would create chances in the second half. This wasn't a vintage Arsenal display. We were in for a scrap and would need a second goal early to impose ourselves and ensure all three points would come our way.

Villa again came out of the blocks faster in the opening stages of the second period. But with Arsenal's record of six wins and six draws in their last 12 appearances at Villa Park, we knew that we had an edge over the home team, even though they were producing a performance which could break that statistic. However with a starting 11 which only had 11 goals between them all season, they would have to produce something special if they were to beat even our make shift defence.

And it proved that the moment when they did draw level was all down to us creating them an opportunity. Guzan pumped long. Agbonlahor’s flick-on was headed by Vermaelen towards Per Mertesacker but was short of the German. Marc Albrighton charged towards the Mertesacker and got in ahead of him. He was through on goal with just Szczesny to beat and slotted the ball between goalkeeper's legs to score the 20,000 Premier League goal.

How disappointing that feat was achieved through an Arsenal defensive cock-up.

Wenger called for a change 12 minutes after the home team had drawn level. Rosicky replacing Frimpong and it got the Gunners back on the front foot. As Liverpool had proved on Sunday, Villa are weak at set pieces and an opportunity fell Mertesacker's way which was saved by Guzan.

Wenger made his final changes of the match with nine minutes of normal time left. Andrey Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun came on for Ramsey and Gervinho. A flowing piece of football saw Rosicky shooting at the end of it but having his effort blocked.

van Persie picking up his third league booking of the season for what the referee adjudged to be a dive as the Dutchman took the ball into the penalty area and was clattered by Stephen Warnock as the Gunner's chased a victory.

But the Arsenal winner came right at the death. Van Persie swung in a corner and it was Benayoun who appeared to want to win the header more than Agbonlahor. The Israeli's effort found the back of the net and was enough to win us the game.

Former Spurs defender Alan Hutton got himself sent off at the death but it had little baring on how the game finished.

Post match Arsene Wenger said:
"I can only congratulate Villa - they played well, gave everything and again it was a very intense game.  
"In the end we got three very late points that are vital for us. We were a bit unlucky on Sunday and today maybe a bit lucky.  
"Overall it was important to re-start with a win tonight."
Three points is three points and it was important to get back to winning ways. We now have to ensure we take three points against Wolves and Fulham to ensure we make the most of our festive fixture schedule.

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