My thoughts on Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Aston Villa and the consequences it may have on our title charge…
A draw was probably the right result. The general feeling was that Aston Villa posed more of a threat but the statistics show they only managed one shot on target. While Martin O’Neill will be kicking himself that Stewart Downing didn’t show more courage when heading wide in the second half yet Arsene Wenger will be cursing his luck that neither Cesc Fabregas nor Tomas Rosicky were able to avoid the woodwork.
It’s so far so good with regards to the signing of Sol Campbell. The big man was called upon for the second week in a row after Thomas Vermaelen’s injury and was arguably the outstanding defender on the pitch, throwing his body around in a typically brutish manner. His communication with William Gallas was good and the other players clearly respect him – the big question now is whether his body will hold up playing a number of games on the trot.
Vermaelen’s injury, meanwhile, is as unlikely as it is frustrating. If scans reveal a suspected fracture of the tibula he will be the fourth player after Samir Nasri, Denilson and Kieran Gibbs to fracture a bone this season. When you throw in Eduardo’s ugly break a couple of seasons ago and Robin van Persie’s bizarre ankle problem it really does bring to light how unfortunate we continue to be with injuries.
Denilson was the worst player on the pitch against Villa and should Alex Song return against Manchester United then the manager should really consider dropping the Brazilian to the bench. Despite working hard he offered ineffective protection for the defence, inexplicably gave the ball away at dangerous moments and offered nothing going forward. While Aaron Ramsey was far from perfect he exudes a confidence that Denilson simply doesn’t have and he should join Song and Cesc Fabregas in the midfield on Sunday.
We looked at our best last night when winning possession on the edge of our own area and breaking forward with pace. It was clearly the gameplan employed by Wenger as Villa gained more and more of the ball and almost paid dividends twice when first Cesc Fabregas then Tomas Rosicky hit the bar. Fabregas’ run and shot was a reminder of the career-best form he is in at the moment while Rosicky’s unlucky effort came after a sensational bit of dribbling by Andrey Arshavin. Big players so often win the big games and our two biggest attackers so nearly delivered on the back of a couple of classy individual performances.
While Arshavin and Fabregas were our best attackers against Villa, Nicklas Bendtner was arguably our most effective. Replacing the injured Eduardo on 60 minutes the big Dane gave a stark reminder of just the sort of player we have been missing up front. He won headers, threw his body against Richard Dunne and James Collins and provided a focal point that allowed Fabregas and Co to impose themselves more on the game as it wore on. On another day Bendtner may have scored twice and – fitness aside – his impressive cameo and Eduardo’s muscle tear should see him earn a start on the weekend.
Manchester United at home on Sunday night has now become our biggest game of the season. Win it and we get three points and the necessary momentum back to put up a genuine fight against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Lose it and our uphill battle becomes very steep indeed. United will have momentum of their own after beating Manchester City in a Carling Cup thriller so it’s going to take an epic team performance to get the result we require.
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