Arsenal booked their place in the 5th round of the FA Cup after a storming 2nd half comeback against Aston Villa at the Emirates this afternoon.
The Gunners started brightly, dominating possession, and had an early chance when Theo Walcott burst through the midfield and into the box. With Aaron Ramsey inside him and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain arriving unmarked at the back post, Walcott decided blasting a shot wide would be the best option.
Thomas Vermaelen then tested Shay Given with rocket of a free kick from distance but that was about as good as Arsenal got. Lots of possession but little directness and urgency and a lack of creativity from midfield. Any crosses, low or high, were well dealt with by the Villa defence.
So it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling when Villa took the lead. When they took a short corner Aaron Ramsey was left two against one, Robbie Keane stood up a cross to the back post and Richard Dunne climbed above Laurent Koscielny to make it 1-0.
Arsenal responded with more crossing and an Oxlade-Chamberlain shot from distance which had Given scrambling, but when Villa broke quickly in first half injury time Darren Bent made it 2-0. He was played through, took a decent shot which Fabianski saved but from a very tight angle fizzed the rebound home.
The half-time whistle went and we left the field to a chorus of boos. We played well enough but got sucker punched twice, the old defensive failings coming back to haunt us again.
However, whatever Arsene Wenger said to his players at half-time clearly had an effect. We were faster, brighter, sharper, stronger, more direct and quite a bit more delicious.
Per Mertesacker had a header cleared off the line by Stephen Ireland, Theo Walcott was almost through, Aaron Ramsey had a shot saved from inside the box and Thomas Vermaelen shot not far wide from distance.
Eventually the pressure told when Aaron Ramsey, impressive in the 2nd half especially, was taken down in the box by Richard Dunne. The Irishman was already on a yellow card but referee Mike Jones felt the penalty kick was sufficient punishment. Robin van Persie stepped up and made it 2-1.
Just two minutes later we were level. Theo Walcott ran into the box, tried to nick it past Shay Given at the near post, it bounced up, a Villa player tried to clear it, it hit Walcott about 4 yards out and went in. 2-2. Something of a fluke but dammit we deserve some luck.
And less than 5 minutes later Arsenal won another penalty. Laurent Koscielny came forward from the back, stormed all the way into the Villa box and was taken down by Darren Bent. Up stepped Robin again and he made it 3-2.
Now, at this point I could go through the rest of the game but it doesn’t matter. There were a couple of scary moments at each end but look, you have to give credit to the team for fighting back. It’s not the first time we’ve done this to Villa, coming back from 2-0 down to win (the last time at Highbury), but two penalties and the jammiest goal you’ll ever see won us the game.
The main highlight of the rest of the last part of the match was the return of Bacary Sagna after 4 months out with injury. Welcome back, Bac!
Sometimes you need your luck to change to get going again, we had a bit of that today, and considering all that’s come before I’m happy to take it.
We’re into the 5th round of the cup, we’ve won a game, let’s enjoy it. Yes, the first half was poor but games are played over 90 minutes and at the end we’ve come out on top.
Come on you Goooooooooooners!