Today we had our non flying Dutchman back in the reckoning, but Seaman, Lauren and Kanu were still out. Cole also didn't make it and Freddie who was clearly knackered on Wednesday was rested, as was the hard working Sylvain. Martin and Gio were available however, with both players working back towards full fitness. So the line in front of Rami saw Oleg and Gio as fullbacks, Pascal and Sol central defenders, Pat and Gilberto in the middle, Kolo right, Bob left and Dennis joining greased lightning up front.
Villa chose to kick towards the Clock End so Arsenal kicked off and bossed the game early doors. The first foul, for the umpteenth time this season, was on Paddy. Our first real chance came when Dennis played a lovely back heeled one-two with Pat who in turn found Kolo who had a powerful drive well saved at the near post for a corner. Dennis had a decent shot deflected from long range. Henry received massive applause today whenever he went over to take a corner. Maybe for his major contribution in the week, but also possibly for all the good things he had to say in an interview for the Saturday Telegraph.
Arsenal played all the football in the opening exchanges, we looked sharp, worked hard, moved well and showed no signs of our midweek exertions. Hitzlsperger went over the top on Pat but Taylor looked to be going for first man into Graham Barber's book with a series of fouls, mostly on Pat. Vassell was Villa's biggest threat by far and had a half chance early on but they didn't really play the first half, mainly because we wouldn't let them have the ball. Sol was holding our line the rest were playing keep ball whilst probing for an opening.
Our runs were good but the passes didn't quite match them early on. Vassell did work Sol over with a neat step-over, he cut inside and then drew a fine save from Rami. Gilberto found Dennis at the other end who tried a long angled shot. Gilberto to Toure, almost. Vassell seemed quick to go to ground as did Samuel. Leonhardsen had a rather naff shot after Gilberto only half cleared. Samuel injured himself trying to foul Toure while Taylor backed into Vieira totally unnoticed by Barber.
Like I said Arsenal were playing all the football, knocking it around the back and probing, just as they were with a twelve plus passing move that only entered Villa's half on about the eleventh pass: the ball came to Dennis. Our Dutchman spotted Bob's well timed run in the right hand channel and slid though the perfect ball. Bob ran through onto the ball and drilled it low past Enckelman to make it 1-0 to be followed by the obvious, but nether-the-less enjoyable chant. Seventeen minutes gone and we had a deserved lead.
We pressed on and Villa continued to defend. Oleg crossed from the right. Dennis popped up on our left, Bob popped up on our right and the whole thing looked seriously fluid. The boys were working very hard to make space for each other, dragging players deep, making runs, switching play but always playing quality football. Quality is maybe a word that Le Boss sometimes overuses but is does sum us up so well these days. Kolo powered through the middle only to be denied by Enckelman. Bob missed his kick with a fine chance but play continued until Gio blasted over. Oleg, Pat and Kolo combined well down our right flank. Looking good.
When we had to defend we did it fairly well and played beautiful football coming out from the back. The pressure exerted meant that Pat might get fouled or Oleg might get caught offside but the flicks, back-heels and close slick passes would keep on coming anyway. Taylor was following Pat around like a sheep but only had one way of stopping him, not that Barber was taking any note of the accumulated foul count. Villa did hit in one really dangerous cross from the right but they weren't really at the races. Henry had time and space but only managed to drill the ball against the post, it bounced out to the enthusiastic onrushing Kolo who gleefully slammed it in the net, but the offside flag was up. Why the offside flag was up is an absolute mystery, there is no way he could have been offside. Awful decision.
plays better when he rolls his sox up over his knees? Half-time 1-0 but is should have quite rightfully have been two.
The anonymous Lee Hendrie was replaced by Ulises De La Cruz after the break. 'Who?' Was the Gooners question and the answer according to the programme notes was an Ecuadorian from Hibs. Villa threatened with Samuel down the left who did Oleg with ease on one occasion. But we were doing ok with a fine cross from Pires amongst others. After Villa went close with a header by Dublin from a corner, set pieces being their biggest threat. Meanwhile at the Clock End, Thierry won a free kick after being tripped by De La Crux just outside their area towards the left-hand side. The same position that Thierry scored from in midweek. Bob and Thierry stood over the ball, my money was on Bob to take it just by way of a change but he stepped over the ball. Henry spanked it over the wall and it dipped beautifully into the top corner even more perfectly than on Wednesday night. The training ground practising had paid off, another brilliant free kick and 2-0 to the Arsenal. Brian Talbot has at long last found a successor it seems. Now if TH14 would just practice his heading we might have the greatest centre forward of all time.
'Go home, you might as well go home' was the Gooners taunt to the travelling Midlanders, and so it seemed. The best they could offer was a 35 yard punt into row PP of the North Bank from Hitzlesperger. Vassell was caught off side but Shaaban saved in any case. Samuel chopped Kolo - nothing. Oleg puts in a perfect tackle on the same player right in front of the assistant ref who didn't flag and Barber ran 20 yards to give Oleg a yellow card. What a joke this man is, if that booking is not rescinded Barber should be dropped from the Premiership. The West Stand were not at all happy. Arsenal break and Leonhardsen chopped Gilberto - nothing. What is it with referees? Why this obsession with red shirts and white sleeves? Oleg fouled Samuel again, for real this time, and clearly expected another card: because of the shirt he was wearing - not the tackle.
Henry on a fast raid found Bob on the right but his low cross was cleared. Cygan was caught offside as we kept the pressure on. 'We won the League in Manchester' as the fans thoughts strayed towards next weekends match. Maybe our team's thought's strayed as well because Villa had a dangerous cross to our far post. Sol shepherded out for a corner. Oleg heads clear as Shaaban spectated. Our passing was still good when we had the ball but it was Villa having the upper hand. More so when Hitzlsperger lashed a screaming shot with his left foot past Shaaban from the edge of our box to make 2-1. We were just a tad wobbly for a while.
Vassell took out Cygan late but Barber was still in white-stick mode. Taylor kneed Pascal in the back and all we got was a free kick. A strange substitution next: Keown for Toure with twenty-three minutes to play. Not strange to give Keown a work-out but rare to change the formation. We went to a back five that didn't quite work for me. Hitzlesperger late on Gilberto and got booked. Bob and Thierry combine down the left and Gilberto's shot earned a corner. With nineteen minutes to play Sylvain replaced Dennis. Gio just wide with a shot as Rob copped one and limps around for a bit.
It's was now p*ssing down and Arsene had donned his raincoat as he issued further instructions from the touchline. Taylor late on Freddie - yellow card. Freddie headed clear, Martin headed clear and Oleg disappeared into the West Stand spectators. The whistle went for offside against Henry, Thierry carried on and netted. Barber booked Henry. What a sad big name collector this buffoon is. Henry then gave him a round of applause on such a brilliant decision, which is maybe not the most sensible thing to do to such an overdeveloped ego. 'The referee's a w*nker'
A Martin Keown step-over - the world has gone mad! Henry almost got his second hat-trick of the week when he met Freddie's cross with a decent header but Enckelman was well positioned and saved it. Bit more work on the training ground with the headers required there I think Theirry, Smithy would have had it so would Wrighty! Ok so we all know Thierry Henry is absolutely brilliant - but why not aim at perfection. Arsene does, and he 's getting there!