EPL 2007-2008: Aston Villa 1 – Arsenal 2

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 2nd, 2007 • 10:16 am

Phew! This was a bit of a lucky escape, wasn’t it?

The first half was terrific. Aston Villa got the opening goal against the run of play, but then the Gunners persisted in doing what they do best, i.e. pass their way into the net, with the occasional added flourish of a well-taken shot or header.

Both Arsenal goals were terrific, both the result of great passing moves on the right flank, with a really well-hit shot by Flamini for the first and a nice header by Adebayor for the second.

The first half was terrific, not just because of the goals, but also because for once we were playing a team that was having a go at it and not only sitting back and trying to muscle us out of the game.

And then Martin O’Neill had his half-time talk.

Sure, it had an effect. It had the effect of turning a great game of attacking football into a nasty physical contest with the occasional “decoration” of a nice move here and there. It was effectively Aston Villa reverting to the standard approach by “second-tier” teams when dealing with Arsenal.

It almost worked, though not quite. But surely I am not alone in feeling that John Carew’s attack on Hleb was quite cynical, and maybe not just the “accidental” injury-causing foul that it will pass for in the English media. Hleb had clearly been the playmaker for Arsenal in the first half. Literally taking him out of the game was part of a shift in strategy, and one that is typical of what’s wrong with English football at this time.

Yes, the Gunners then had to fight hard to preserve their advantage. There were a few dicey moments, and Ashley Young in particular looked quite threatening. But he stood out because he was effectively the only one still posing much of a threat, the only one still trying to play positive football—until his blatant dive in the penalty area later in the second half, that is. I guess by then the cynicism of the rest of the team had caught up with him.

OK, I am obviously biased. The Gunners did not play well in the second half. It is true that they are capable of better play even in difficult circumstances. This time, they just fought to preserve their slender lead. They looked tired. Even Arsène Wenger had to resort to somewhat “negative” tactics by replacing Rosicky with the defensive-minded Gilberto.

That apparent fatigue is a bit of a worry with the number of fixtures scheduled in December. But the essential thing here is that it is another three points, away from home, against a difficult team that was on a good run. We cannot really ask for much more at this point in time. In order to be championship contenders, you do need a bit of luck sometimes, when things are not going your way and you are having a bit of an off day.

Next up is another away trip to Saint James’ Park. Now here’s a team that is not on a good run. Let’s hope we can take advantage of this to extend our lead. But then again, with Big Sam at the helm, we know what to expect. It probably is not going to be pretty either.

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