Arsenal held on for an important 2-1 away victory over Aston Villa despite a gallant second-half display from the home side.
Both sides started the contest brightly but it was Villa who scored the opener on 14 minutes after John Carew’s cross was twice deflected through to Craig Gardner who finished cooly from around nine yards out. Arsenal responded soon after through Mathieu Flamini, who hammered home from the edge of the area on 24 minutes after wonderful lead up work by the two Emmanuel’s Adebayor and Eboue, and went ahead soon after when Adebayor headed home Bacary Sagna’s hanging cross. Aston Villa upped the ante after the break and had Arsenal on the back foot for most of the second half, but the closest they came to a goal was when Carew’s header struck the bar as Arsene Wenger’s side held on for a valuable win.
The headline says it all, really. Arsenal were untouchable at times in the first half but at the end of the day, they probably got two more points than they deserved. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. These are exactly the type of games that champion sides win and Wenger’s side will take great heart from their ability to scrap out a win in awful weather against one of the in-form sides in the league. With Chelsea and Liverpool both winning and Manchester United likely to shoot holes in Fulham later today, three points ensured that Arsenal kept their little lead at the top over the rest.
I was surprised to see both Alexander Hleb and Gael Clichy pass late fitness tests and feature in the starting team, while Lassana Diarra partnered Flamini in the centre of the pitch. I thought the Frenchman did quite well. He has a little bit of a habit of taking too many touches on the ball and while he moves well and rarely got caught out in the first half, he lost possession a little bit too often when Arsenal were under pressure in the second. Hopefully Wenger can sort that out with Diarra because he looks a sensational prospect. Just on the manager, he spoke after the match of how delighted he was with the result and in particular, his side’s ability to come back from a goal down without losing their confidence.
“When you have a set-back the way the team responds can have a big impact on the season. The way we played showed that it did not bother us. It did not kill the confidence in the side.”
A lot of people have been talking about Alexander Hleb’s contribution as the crucial one in Saturday’s match, but in my eyes it was Flamini and William Gallas who stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. Gallas for his ability to lead the defence to one of their best defensive performances of the season and Flamini for so comfortably slipping into the attacking midfield role vacated by Cesc Fabregas’ absence and grabbing a goal to boot. A better utility player you will struggle to find anywhere in the world at the moment, and he and Gallas were the main reason why Arsenal were able to ensure they went home with no less than the three points.
Respect for Flamini
I really relate to Flamini as a player and that is why I have always had so much respect for him. I’m no mug when it comes to football, but like Flamini I’m a short, scruffy-haired, sometimes unpolished looking midfielder and I have to say it’s something of an inspiration to see a player like him having such success this season. Let’s hope he can keep it up because he’s fast becoming one of Arsenal’s most important players. Another one of those players that has lifted since last season is Flamini’s celebration partner Adebayor and he had some lovely things to say about the Arsenal squad.
“Am I worried about our strength in depth? No, no, no. We have a lot of good players, a lot of talented players in the squad and we all trust each other.”
It’s very good to hear, especially considering Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard questioned the club’s depth just a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to enjoy watching him being proved wrong. You can see in the little things that happen on the field that there are no egos in the side and it’s wonderful to watch. It might be a pat on the back after an poor miss, a high-five after some good defensive work or indeed, the sheer delight the young team visibly show when they score goals. Great stuff.
That’s about it for today. Just before I go I wanted to give another fellow Australian Arsenal blogger, Third Gen, some assistance in solving the Mathieu Flamini ‘Katita’ mystery? Those of you who saw that Villa game will know when Flamini scored he lifted his shirt to reveal the message ‘Katita’, but noone has the foggiest what it means. I know there’s a couple of French readers who enjoy the blog so if you’re one of them and you know what Flamini’s on about then please let us know. Personally, I think it’s probably just some girl he’s got the hots for and if it is, then good luck to him. If I was a girl, I wouldn’t turn him down.
What do you think?
Have your say on Arsenal-Villa or the ‘Katita’ mystery by leaving a comment.