Aston Villa 2-4 Arsenal
The sight of Arsenal sitting atop the league table – albeit briefly, until Turkey Rovers twizzled over at Old Trafford – was as much as anything conformation that this is no ordinary season. On Thursday’s Football Weekly podcast we were told that 28 points after 14 matches (which is what Chelsea had yesterday morning) was the lowest points total of the top-placed side since time began. The fact that Arsenal are up there, scrapping away, says a bit about Arsenal but also a bit about the inconsistency – or is that equality – among the top teams this season.
Yesterday’s trip to the Villa was – as most league games seem to be at the moment – crucial for Arsenal. After two truly rotten defeats, a win was much needed to steady the ship. That we got it and went top is, as I mentioned, a bit nuts.
We absolutely deserved it though. In the first half, we were utterly dominant and should really have scored long before Arshavin’s very Arshavinesque right-foot daisycutter. Nasri’s second, from the excellent Russian’s corner, prompted an outpouring of gallows humour on Twitter. Surely we couldn’t keel over like we had done last weekend?
Cue a Villa goal on 51 minutes and some painful memories of the weekend before. It was a lovely finish but the Arsenal defence backed off for so long that Clark had time to stop, do his hair and floss his teeth before letting rip. [A bit harsh perhaps – the goal should never have stood as Carew was offside and interfering with play by blocking Fabianski’s line of sight.]
Fortunately, Chamakh eased the nerves with a deft toe-poke but this being Arsenal, we were pegged back again when Clark rose unmarked in the box and nodded it over the line. After that it was a little bit frantic but Jack Wilshere rounded things off with a headed goal, his first in the Premier League.
Going forward, we were a joy. Arshavin had a superb game, ably helped by Wilshere and Nasri, both of whom were again excellent. But at the back we were less convincing when put under pressure, and the fear when we concede is palpable. I’m not sure I need go into it any more detail. We have not defended very well all season, and if there are any dances or sacrificial beasts that can be offered up to the gods of Achilles heels, I will happily perform them to ensure Vermaelen comes back firing on all cyclinders. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But it also makes the defence defend worse.
A quick word about Nasri and Chamakh. It is very doubtful had you placed a bet on the opening day of the season that you would have tipped those two to top our scoring approaching Christmas, but with 10 and nine goals respectively, they have exceeded expectations. It’s no surprise that in a formation where only one striker starts, van Persie is struggling to get off the bench.
Nasri scored just five goals last season, and even if you’re being conservative you’d now expect him to hit 15 this time round. Some improvement from a player who is comfortably our stand-out performer of the season.
So a very good win sets us up well for three important but very winnable games – Wigan in the Carling, Fulham in the league and Partizan in Europe – and from there it’s a trip to Old Trafford on Monday 13th.
Dear Father Christmas. Please can I have a month of consistent winning. Thanks, bye.