Well, what a ninety minutes of cup football that was. Something for everyone, I think you would have to agree, from those who enjoy venting their spleen through every possible emotion through to those of unshaken faith. If you landed today from another planet, that is why football will always be the most popular show on Earth.
It was quite interesting to observe the mood of those who could not be in the stadium today on Twitter and a couple of fora as the game got underway. The view of the first-half bore no resemblance to the vitriol that poured out during the half-time interval. Now if I can confess that is somewhat understandable I also have to say that only in scoring was this a game of two halves. Both sessions saw us controlling the ball and Villa relying on breaking at pace to unhinge us.
In the first half their game plan worked, but so many appeared to have forgotten a fine Given save from a Thomas Vermaelen thunderbolt, a strike wide of the near post minutes later by Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky’s fierce drive that Given failed to hold, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful drive. Arsenal didn’t play badly, but neither did the visitors, and when the opportunities presented themselves they pounced.
The first goal was a fairly typical one for us to concede. Set piece from the left, one man went out to meet two attackers, the cross was inevitable and Dunne made sure he got head and shoulders over Laurent Koscielny to head home. The second was less familiar. Villa broke from their own half and Bent was freed by Ireland to strike at goal from the inside-right channel. Although Fabianski parried the first effort Bent followed up to squeeze it in at the near post from an angle that could only be described as acute in the extreme.
Somewhat understandable is how I described the crescendo of jeers that greeted the half-time whistle. I will accept that perspective is not a ready ally when two down at half-time after a string of bad League results. Less understandable to me was reading that the announcement of Andrey Arshavin among the substitutes was greeted with boos before the kick-off. I’m not his biggest fan for sure, but any proclamation of support for your club surely requires not getting on the back of a player who clearly has confidence issues right now, before he has even kicked a ball in anger. Substituting him for the Ox last week may yet prove to have consequences not envisaged by the manager at the time.
All Arsene could do at half-time was to rally his troops, implore them to come out fighting, up the tempo and get at the back four with more gusto. That they did so with such style was uplifting for players and supporters alike, and let us hope it is a turning point as squeaky-bum time approaches. We will need to demonstrate such determination again many times during the pointed end of the season.
Eight minutes in we had a penalty. There was no doubt about the award. Dunne cleaned out Aaron Ramsey and the referee showed the patience of a saint in not issuing a second yellow to add to the one the perpetrator had picked up in the first half, for going through the back of Rosicky. Robin van Persie fired with deadly accuracy to Given’s right as the ‘keeper went left. Game on.
Three minutes later an astonishing weaving run to and along the goal-line brought about an equaliser for Theo Walcott. The hapless Hutton in attempting to clear could only hit it against Theo and watch it rebound into the net. Always amusing to see a former Tottenham man suffer. The jeers had turned to the sort of backing that can only help matters, although it has to be said the number of empty seats give the lie to the official attendance of 60,019. From my wide flat screen it was evidently around three quarters of that at best. Still more than any other London club can accommodate, but slightly worrying nonetheless.
The absentees missed the completion of a remarkable comeback when Koscielny produced an astonishing burst from the back, pursued by Bent, and the former Tottenham striker pulled him down from behind in the box. A second clear penalty, this time hit to Given’s left by the skipper, and in eight remarkable minutes we had turned a two goal deficit into a victory. Yes, over half an hour remained (with four extra minutes), but one Clark header from another corner aside, we restricted Villa to precious little possession with which to hurt us.
In recent weeks we have been so quick to criticise that it is only right to credit so many today. Eight remarkable minutes may or may not have an effect on our season. If finally we respond to this latest wake-up call then good. We can look back on this as the game when Ramsey recovered the form that has eluded him of late. Hardworking and creative, he concentrated on what he can do with the ball today rather than over-stretching himself. We can look back on this as the day when Walcott and the Ox showed what a threat they pose when receiving the ball in sufficient space to get a direct run at defenders. We can look back on this as one of the many days this season that Koscielny has shown he has so much to offer this side as an offensive central defender.
Most of all though I hope that as the injured start to return, and as long as the performances continue to produce their just rewards, that the support can come together behind a club that deserves a decent run-in. The healing process may just have started in eight second-half minutes this afternoon. Now perhaps things will start to look up for a club who, unlike their more illustrious rivals in Manchester, are not out of all the major cup competitions by the end of January.
Enjoy your week, ‘holics. Indeed enjoy your week all Arsenal supporters. I’m off to get well and truly sozzled.
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