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The Joy of Cesc – Arsenal 3 – Aston Villa 0, Match Review

Great teams make good teams look average. Make no mistake about Aston Villa are a good team. Out of all the potential big-four crashers they are the most complete team. Solid in defense, good speed on the attack, strong strikers, solid keeper in net and a manager you can respect. However, in a fixture at the Emirates it was the mighty Arsenal who staked a claim not to thier top four aspirations but to their title contention.

Let's talk about Cesc baby!

Let's talk about Cesc baby!


Great teams make good teams look average. Make no mistake about Aston Villa are a good team. Out of all the potential big-four crashers they are the most complete team. Solid in defense, good speed on the attack, strong strikers, solid keeper in net and a manager you can respect. However, in a fixture at the Emirates it was the mighty Arsenal who staked a claim not to thier top four aspirations but to their title contention.

Four weeks ago, Chelsea had been annointed by the press as this season’s title winners. They had beaten Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates but then the whole world turned upside down and here at the end of December Arsenal are 4 points back off the leaders with a game in hand.

This was match that had a lot of Gooners tied up into stitches. Noone really knew what to make of the match. Looking at most of the write ups many of us – me included had Arsenal coming in with a draw. It was safe and given the club’s recent history against Villa – it was a good bet.

Villa had been on a solid run of 4 wins without conceding a goal. Their defense had only given up 14 goals in all matches this season. It was a case of the immovable object meeting the immovable force (or whatever that saying it is). It would just be a matter of who blinked first.

For the opening of the match the game pretty much developed as I thought. Arsenal had the most of the ball and the pressure and were surely up for the day. Villa though were intent to absorb the punch. However it was 3 minutes in when Eduardo had a fabulous opportunity to beat BRad Fridel and unfortunately his bad run of form continued as he squibbed it away. It was a great chance set up by the fine play of one much maligned player – Diaby (I should know – I constantly malign him). He contrlled the ball and turned on the penalty area and laid it off to the Crozillian who struck his shot right at the Villa ‘keeper.

In the 21st minute however, it looked like Villa would go ahead but Richard Dunne looked to be taking the head off of Manuel Almunia with his elbow. While it was typical wobbly play from Almunia the foul was evident and the goal did not stand up to Phil Dowd’s scrutiny.

8 minutes later it was Arsenal’s turn as the trio of Diaby, Denilson, and Sagna set up the play which saw Denilson lay the ball up to Nasri. The frenchman who seems to be getting more solid game to game shot a rocket that deflected off the cross bar. From there on in the play was clearly Arsenal’s. Howvever, if you were Martin O’Neill you would be happy with the play of your team and working on 0-0 draw.

Like the week before this match was a tale of two halves and in the second half the game was all Arsenal.

Immediately into the opening of the second half Arsenal had two very good attempts cleared off the line and Villa’s vaunted defense looked ripe for the taking. Gallas was one the receiving end of an Eduardo header and shot it towards goal with a one-arm save by Fridel and a left foot kick by Cuellar saving the sure fire goal.

Then in un typical Arsene Wenger fashion he made his first substitution before the 60 minute mark. He swapped Denilson for the real captain fantastic – Cesc Fabregas. From the minute he stepped on the pitch the game changed. While Andrei Arshavin would not see a goal today his game elevated as the Spainard imposed his will on the game. Immediately Fabregas linked up with Arshavin who twisted free to shoot a low hard shot into a diving Friedel. Had AA23 lifted the ball slightly it would’ve been the games opening goal.  But even still it signaled the intent of the Arsenal squad.

Going into last week Arsenal had not scored from a FK since mid-season 2007. That all changed off the ankle and foot of Brazillian Denilson last week who’s shot at the 45th minute from the left side of the top of the penalty box. Fast forward to this week. In a spot very like last week and this time the Captain standing over the ball. Fabregas tried to turn Dunne and was brought down for the foul. Then in pure Captain Fabtastic fashion – he shot a curling ball to the upper right corner that had eyes and beat Friedel – who never had a chance on the ball anyway.

Game on.

The game would be put away off of the foot of the Captain again this time on the counter. Traore intercepted a pass from Milner and played the ball up to Walcott on the right. With Fabregas on his side the two used speed to press the defense and finally using his head for the pass – Walcott sent the Captain lose and beat Friedel again. 2-0. However the goal was not without its price. Fabregas came on after a week out with a hamstring injury. By all looks his speed burst may have again aggravated that injury. We don;’t know yet. With his 21 minute pitch visit over Cesc was replaced by Aaaron Ramsey. The game was in hand and the 3 points were tied up.

The game was firmly closed down in injury time when Aston Villa’s defense parted like the red sea for the hard charging Diaby who clocked a shot past the very surprised and probably very pissed Brad Friedel. Diaby was left to run the ball in from the midfield point of the attacking half. He had a solid shot past the keeper and deserved the goal based on his performance during the game.

My foot is better than a Brazillian ankle
My foot is better than a Brazillian ankle

Prior to Cesc’s introduction into the match, Diaby had to have been the man of the match. We’ve all talked at length about how he is best when his game is straight forward and he can press the attack. Whatever Diaby had in his pre-game regimine before these last two matches he should do over and over. Simply put he has been a rock these two matches. He is outpacing opposition defenders. Getting back on the ball when needed and making passes – he is thinking and developing. It’s only two games in a row but I cannot remember Diaby having two solid performances like this strung together. If he does it against Pompey in the midweek tie we will have to ask ourselves if Diaby has finally arrived.

Additionally, I think you cannot pay our back four enough credit for their play since the Chelsea match. They were victimized in that match. While there was some admirable play they seemed wobbly. Since then – they have been absolutely solid only allowing 2 goals in matches against Stoke, Liverpool, Burnley, Hull and Aston Villa. That is a good record for any defense. It looks like from all indications that the defense has learned from its play against Chelsea and is once again solidfying its resolve. Arsenal will never be called a defensive powerhouse. But a defense that locks down, Wayne Rooney, Gabbie Abonglahor and the ilk are a good crew. The best moment of the match today was in the 2nd half when Vermaelen went leg for leg for a ball in the Arsenal end. Neither player would give and inch and Vermaelen crowded the ball first with his feet then with his body resolved not to give the ball to Gabbie. It worked and he drew the FK as well.

Finally, I think I need to add that I am no fan of Manuel Almunia. His positioning on most set pieces is enough to make anyone go through a bottle of tums. However, in the last two weeks he has been solid. Yes, he has some moments of consternation but overall he has played failry well and in what could be called his save of the season he made a wonderful one armed save on a shot by Abonglahor (or was it Carew. Got to look at the film). Regardless it was the kind of save that preserves matches and keeps momentum with his squad. More matches like this will go a long way to lock in his defense’s faith in him. But I am still going to argue we need a good number 1 keeper.

Let’s be honest this match was all about Cesc Fabregas’ brief stint in the lineup and his ability to absolutely change the direction of a match and control play. From the moment he was introduced and the first shot he missed – a lazy shot that signaled his intentions – it was clear the game had changed. There are few players in the EPL that can turn a game like that. I would aruge that Drogba can’t do it. He doesn’t have the finesse he is pure muscle. Right now I can’t think of someone who when in the grove like that can totally dictate the entire flow of the game. Maybe Torres. Ronaldo had it. Henry had it. Catalona had it. Fabregas has it. He was on for about 21 minutes and controlled the game. From commanding the passing to setting up shots and to ultimately making the shots. Fabregas showed his class and he showed again why he is Arsenal’s man. I don;t think there is a fee that could be offered for him, at least not now, that would free him from the club. If Arsenal are on the verge of a sustained run of club greatness it will come in large part from the mastery of the Catalan midfielder. The extent of his injury is unknown. It could be an aggravation of the scar tissue of the original injury or it could be a complete reinjury.

Anyway, we are now 4 points off the lead. We now have to be considered in contention for the title. Chelsea seem wont to blow the title. They are suffering from a rash of draws against lesser competion. It is form like this that loses titles. YOu can beat the big four all you want – if you cannot take care of business against the Birmingham’s of the world you will not win the title. Arsenal have quietly gone about their business. The are following the formula United laid down last season. They weren’t very convincing against the big four but they were more than able to handle the other clubs. Because of this they won the title. If Arsenal are going to win the title – the need to keep this trend of pummeling the lesser opposition.

Next up – Portsmouth (EPL match)
Almunia: 7.5
Gallas: 7.5
Sagna: 7.5
Vermaelen: 8
Traore: 7.5
Song: 8
Diaby: 8.5
Denilson: 6.5
Eduardo: 6.5
Arshavin: 7
Nasri: 7


Walcott: 6.5
Fabregas 10 (MOTM)
Ramsey: NA

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