The way I see it - Aston Villa v Arsenal

Last updated : 25 January 2010 By Jason Hogan
4500 Arsenal fans turned up at the Britannia in hope, expectation and paid damn good money to watch a pile of dross. I suppose it like having an appetite for under cooked food without being prepared for the consequences of eating it.

Stoke is not one the most pleasant of places to go. On what many would consider a mild day, The Brittania is still cold. Yet whilst 4500 hardy souls made a pilgrimage up to darkest Staffordshire, I personally watched the game from the warmth of my own official boot room - the living room sofa.

From there, I have spent hour upon hour assessing the Arsenal and how they have played - but it didn't take too long on Sunday.

We were outfought, outplayed and outmanoeuvred by our opposition who treated the game like a real cup tie and not a distraction they could have done without. Wenger's team selection only underlined that theory and the limitations, particularly that of certain younger players that were ruthlessly exposed in front of a nationwide audience for all to see.

I really like Francis Coqeulin. He tackles like a demon, is temperamentally sound and has a good engine. He was deployed at right back (and not in his favoured midfield role) for this game with Eastmond in central midfield. Sadly for him, playing right back (occasionally) in the reserves at Underhill is a world away from a fully fledged, blood and thunder cup tie away from home and if Coqeulin didn't know this before, he certainly does now.

The poor lad looked like he was scared of his own shadow and his passing (like the rest of the team) was appalling. His lack of composure spread like a sexually transmitted disease to the rest of the side who gave the ball away and made so many unforced errors, I was almost dumbstruck.

Of course our opposition, who by then were already a goal up courtesy of Fuller, drew confidence and belief from that. We were rattled, struggling to get our act together and they knew it.

I was amazed that Denilson actually managed to equalise on the afternoon with slightly deflected shot. It offered us an unlikely route back into the game. But the Potters responded with a very good goal from Fuller. Mo Sidibe will never strike as a dashing winger but he raced down the right showing Denilson a clean pair of heels (and for that matter showing the chronically hopeless Walcott a thing or two) before clipping over a delightful cross for Fuller to dispatch from point blank range. I refrained from applauding but I thought it was wing play at its best.

Matt Etherington had been lively all afternoon and after benefiting from a tangle on the left, he fed Dean Whitehead for number three. At this point I switched the telly off, sighed heavily, shrugged my shoulders and, full of resignation, retired to the kitchen to have a long drag on a cigarette.

I stared at my kitchen wall plaintively in the hope of solace. But deep down, I knew that would be a futile. I knew the truth and I had to suck it up and take it on the chin.

Through my numbness of mind, I switched on the radio to get through the last academic dregs of the game though I wasn't listening to it. Most of the broadcast went over my head at the speed of a Dale Steyn bouncer but I did remember catching Mark Lawrenson when he said that he would give the after match phone ins listening to the Arsenal "saddos" moaning their way home complaining about Wenger's team selection, a miss.

Well, whilst I will not be readily as dismissive of the fans who gave their time and money to go up there, I would also say that on reflection that I am going to dust myself down and absorb the anguish knowing that I will live to fight another day - and so will Arsenal.

Now it's time to look ahead to Wednesday's trip to Villa Park where we will face Aston Villa.

After failing to score in three successive games, Villa have exploded back to life with nine goals in two. Fat Sam Allardyce (as is his want) moaned about his lot in a way that would have evoked a phrase from Tony Pulis (you know the one I mean). Still, I thought Villa were thoroughly good value for their two legged victory over Blackburn and though they conceded four, they managed to belt Rovers for six. They followed that up with three more against Brighton this weekend to progress to the fifth round of the Cup.

Ashley Young has recently been widely criticised as not being as influential he was last season. Though he is nowhere near the status of Ronaldo or Messi as O'Neill would have you believe, I wouldn't say no to having him, even as an alternative option, at Arsenal.

James Milner has been getting rave reviews all season and I have to say I like him. He is a footballer who doesn't play to the gallery, works extremely hard and quite simply gets on with his with game with no fuss. Now he has added the central midfield position to his bow only a freak injury or loss of form can deny him a trip to South Africa this summer.

Milner's versatility has opened the door for Stewart Downing to gain a place on the flank. Downing does polarise opinion and I admit he can flatter to deceive. But I have been a fan of the boy ever since he made his debut for Middlesbrough against us (FA Cup 2004). I remember him putting in one fabulous cross that day and I thought Mmm. Ever since I have put in my mental notebook. I think he has something about him and we should ignore him at our peril.

Anyway, what really matters is that we need to react and respond fiercely. What we did after being humbled by the PRF was a mark of what we are capable of and we must find it again. I am not going to try and tell the 4500 to try and live down what happened at Stoke.

What I am going to tell them is I want us to seek redemption and atonement at Villa.

If Wenger believes he made some kind of sacrifice at Stoke, the fans will feel that he forfeited the game and sold us way down a hazard infested river. I don't entirely feel that way but if we are as lame and as limp-wristed at Villa, I just might feel a little differently come Thursday morning.