A late Yossi Benayoun header seceured three hard fought points for Arsenal as the Gunners put Sunday’s defeat against Manchester City behind them in gritty style. A Robin van Persie penalty had set the Emirates outfit on their way although it looked likely to be a frustrating evening for Arsene Wenger after Marc Albrighton equalised out of nothing on the hour mark. Nevertheless, a spate of late substitutions came good for the French coach with loan star Benayoun securing hero status off the bench.
Arsene Wenger opted to solve his side’s dearth of centre –back options by sticking with Thomas Vermaelen at left-back and handing Francis Coquelin a starting berth in place of messrs Djourou, Sagna and Jenkinson on the right. In the middle of the park Emmanuel Frimpong was charged with playing the role usually filled by Alex Song. The rest of the team was the same which started at the Etihad on Sunday.
Villa started the game well. Perhaps surprisingly so given how wretched they were against Liverpool at the weekend. A Gabriel Agbonlahor header forced a save from Szczesny before the same player caused a further problems in the box with two further attacks before the 12 minute mark.
After fifteen minutes a beautiful dummy by Walcott completely outfoxed Ciaran Clark who pulled our boy back in the box as he raced towards goal. The ref immediately (and correctly) pointed to the spot and Van Persie smashed home the penalty with aplomb. It was the Dutchman’s 34th goal of the calendar year and his 20th of this season – remarkable stuff.
Inside a minute RVP and Walcott were causing mischief again, the England international having a lobbed effort saved by Brad Guzan after a tremendous through ball by his teammate.
As is so often the case when streaming a game I was served up an array of intriguing adverts as we reached the midway point of the first half. One in particular caught the eye – “Call of Roma” a game which appeared to have a mythological and raunchy theme suitable only for adults. It would have made Arsene blush if he weren’t too busy watching Szczesny make vital claims from several low crosses into the Arsenal box.
Charles Insomnia was giving Le Coq a torrid time, although the Villa man eventually paid for his flash spins and little flicks by getting a good kicking from our young Frenchman. It earned the stand-in right-back a yellow, but certainly sent a message to his compatriot – Insomnia lived up to his name for the rest of the half.
On 31 minutes Ramsey should have doubled Arsenal’s lead or at least set up Walcott for an easy chance. Instead after being played in by Van Persie, the Welshman rashly blazed over from the edge of the box – an all too common trait this season.
In the 10 minutes before half-time it appeared that Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Frimpong were having a private bet about who could give the ball away more. Arsenal were generally comfortable in possession and happy to slow the pace although there was one final scare before the break when Barry Bannan (on for Stephen Ireland) fired a free-kick over the bar with his first touch.
Having obviously been unimpressed by his side’s lackadaisical attitude to pressing the Arsenal defence, Alex McLeish’s side rushed out of the blocks in the second half closing down both Mertesacker and Koscielny far higher up the pitch. It came up trumps within eight minutes. After a Vermaelen headed pass failed to make it to Mertesacker, Marc Albrighton nicked the ball through on goal and slid the ball under Szczesny. It was hapless defending. 1-1.
The equaliser seemed to wake up Wenger’s boys in blue. Walcott won a corner which Mertesacker, in a bid to make immediate amends, jabbed goalwards. Only a super stop from Guzan denied the centre-back his first Arsenal goal.
Nevertheless, after that brief spark by the hour mark we were well and truly under the cosh, Villa having 70 percent of possession and taking advantage of some very slack play in the midfield. Frimpong in particular was regularly guilty of giving the ball away and it wasn’t surprising to see him replaced by Tomas Rosicky.
The game turned very scrappy with few chances created by either side. Too often Arsenal would work the ball into the final third before losing any semblance of creativity. Villa weren’t much better, but with Albrighton (arguably the game’s most dangerous player) the Holt End sensed blood.
The clock continued to countdown with alarming speed as Van Persie was given a ridiculously harsh booking for simulation. Petrov then fired a long range free-kick well wide before, with ten minutes left, Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho made way for Andrey Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun. Could we get our foot on the ball and create a winning chance was the question?
A spell of intricate play on the edge of the Villa box finally released Rosicky but his effort was blocked by Dunne. Then Arshavin cut in from the left and saw his shot take a wicked deflection which could have gone anywhere but ended up over the bar. From the resulting corner, Arsenal’s 11th of the game, Yossi Benayoun stooped at the back post to head home from four yards. The substitutions worked! We’d got the goal we needed.
Four minutes of extra time made for very nervy viewing – not least because the stream was getting somewhat sketchy. A few handbags in the middle of the park wasted a few valuable seconds. Spurs reject Hutton picked up a booking which Van Persie didn’t mind taunting him about and then the prattish Scot picked up a second a minute later after a bad challenge on Vermaelen.
Finally the ref blew and three hard fought points were secured. Phew!
Goal highlights courtesy of @arsenalist