EPL 2005: Day 9 (Arsenal 3 – Aston Villa 1)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
October 18th, 2004 • 1:18 am

It was an excellent week-end for Arsenal. Early Saturday, Birmingham had managed to hold Manchester United to another disappointing 0-0 draw, which meant that the Gunners could put an 11-point between them and their rivals prior to the October 24 clash at Old Trafford, if they could beat Aston Villa at home.

They did just that, in spite of an early scare that saw Lee Hendrie give his team the lead at Highbury after just 3 minutes (after Sol Campbell had already managed to hit the visitors’ crossbar with a powerful header). In truth, it’s probably not a good idea for any visiting team to score early at Highbury against the Gunners. It’s a sure-fire way to sting Arsenal into action right away, and we all know how devastating they can be. It didn’t take long for Henry to earn a fully-deserved penalty, which he handed over to Robert Pires. Pires made no mistake and the Gunners were level after barely a quarter of an hour. It was mostly one-way traffic after that, but Aston Villa’s reserve goalkeeper Stefan Postma had an astounding game and kept his team in the running with at least half a dozen excellent saves.

Still, Aston Villa couldn’t hold Arsenal back forever, and Thierry Henry deservedly put his name on the score sheet just before half-time with another top-class finish. He was again involved in the third goal, where, instead of going for glory after a pass from Flamini, he delicately fed Pires, who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, especially when that place includes acres of space between him and the next defender. Once again, Pires made no mistake with a beautiful finish and scored his second of the night, which should silence the critics in France after the mid-week row in international action.

In truth, as Arsène Wenger puts it, there’s way too much pressure on the shoulders of Henry, Vieira and Pires to replicate their club form in international games, as if the rest of the Arsenal team played no part in lifting the Gunners to the very top of the English Premier League. There is probably a certain amount of ego clashing between the new French coach Raymond Domenech and the “old guard” from Arsenal, but it’s not unexpected and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even the best players can become complacent, and you can understand Domenech’s desire to kick-start the construction of a new French team by putting more pressure on those players who can take it.

The final score was 3-1, but it would have been much worse for Villa if their goalkeeper had not had such a great day. Nine games played, 8 victories, 1 draw, 25 points, 29 goals scored, three players in the top three scorers, 49 league games unbeaten — what a record! The October 24 game at Old Trafford will be massive indeed.

Alex Ferguson is up to his usual mind games, but, if the current season is any indication, he might just have lost his touch. Certainly if Manchester United can’t win next week, it might just turn out to be the beginning of the end for him.

But before then there is another round of Champions’ League action in mid-week, with Arsenal travelling to Greece, probably without Patrick Vieira. But then, we now have Fabregas! What an impressive young player!

I think this is probably the most exciting that the Gunners have ever been, with just the right combination of youthfulness and experience. Compare this to boring boring Chelsea, who suffered their first defeat of the season in yet another dreadful game at Manchester City. Money buys you a lot of things, but it doesn’t buy you team spirit, and it doesn’t buy you personality. In truth, Chelsea have been quite fortunate to have remained unbeaten until now and to have kept up pace with the Gunners. After 9 games, even with the Drogba injury, there’s little excuse for this kind of performance. I don’t mean any disrespect to Kevin Keegan, but Manchester City are not exactly known for their defensive prowess. Anyway… That’s more words than I want to spend on Mourinho’s arrogance. You get what you paid for.

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