It was a slick zippy pitch and steady horizontal rain that greeted the teams. Horizontal rain is always better for fans as the shelter afforded by the stand is only effective if the rain is not driving in at you. I stayed dry in row O of the North Stand lower tier but suspect a number of fans got a soaking.
Arsenal looked up for it, seriously up for it. The communal turbo-charger was engaged from kick off and it looked as if luck was with us there might well be a few dizzy defenders come full time. We stormed at Villa from the off and could have been ahead in the fourth minute when Vieira found Bergkamp who’s shot was well saved by Sorensen who also did well to smother Thierry’s follow up. Cygan got in a good early tackle on Angel and Cole dismissed any personal pressure he might be feeling by having a shot from outside the box saved low by Sorensen. We could quite easily have gone ahead when what seemed like the entire forward line knocked it about to set up a rampant Vieira who screwed his shot up badly from Reyes final ball.
When, after what seemed like a lifetime of attacks but was in fact just ten minutes, we worked a move that involved Lauren, Dennis and Edu whose final ball to Freddie was not defended well at all. The full back was nowhere, Freddie didn’t give up and Sorensen was late spotting the danger. Freddie did what Freddie does best; he sneaked in and fired home 0-1 Arsenal. That’s 5 in 6 games for Freddie and our mood said that the game was over at this point and our recent record against Villa probably confirmed it.
What I loved was the sight of Henry screaming at fellow forwards to press Villa back and the whole team acting as a defensive or attacking unit. Make no mistake the personal in the line-up were far less important than the will to act as a unit, and this mood against a none too clever Villa team we were once again unbeatable.
We didn’t quite have it all our own way but our offside trap was well marshalled and when a fine through ball was hit to Angel Lehmann was out well to do his job. Henry needed a goal; the fact that he tops both the Premiership assists and goals scored doesn’t alter that fact. His standards are so far ahead of others that statistics are of little account; recently Thierry has only been pretty damned good rather than brilliant. But it looked like it might continue that way when he missed a sitter. Edu won the ball fed Jose and received the ball back to unleash a shot that hit the inside of the post. It bounced back for Henry who fired over from close range.
If you thought he might sulk, think again, within a couple of minutes he latched onto a killer ball from Pat and hit a left-footed shot across Sorensen to make it 0-2. With Arsenal on fire it was game over. ‘You might as well go home’
Dennis was pulling wide and slinging in crosses, the timing of our runs was carving them up. Solano had a free kick, which he bent too far for the intended headers at the far post and a rare Villa chance was wasted. Senderos when called upon, such as his fine block on Luke Moore looked totally at home in exalted company. His reading of the game was good, his tackling crisp and his distribution spot on. None of which prevented him from applying the Adams maxim of ‘if in doubt, boot it out’. He seems like an old school defender who, because he isn’t allowed to scythe people down, has developed both feet and great passing skills, he’s almost there now and will be a great asset to the Club as he gains experience.
Our third goal was as good as it gets, it came from nowhere and was unstoppable. It started with the best player in the world near our right-hand touchline near the centre line. He took on the two players closing him down and worked inside, blew away the odd player and came crossfield towards the left. He spotted Dennis pulling back to make himself space and at this point Cole started a run down the inside left channel. The ball to Dennis was perfect as was his first time pass into the path of Cole who by now was impersonating a runaway train. Cole’s shot on the run was brilliant and Senderos had no chance and it screamed past him at the far post. A truly orgasmic goal of world class quality. Villa were absolutely shredded. With less than half an hour on the clock we were 0-3 ahead. Chants of ‘Go home, you might as well go home’ were adamant.
Moore got the rats and hacked Pat down from behind, the only way to stop him. A superb move from Cole, Reyes and Freddie continued to carve up Villa. Barry from the left had a cross caught with ease by Jens before the over-priced Djemba-Djemba, so crap they named him twice, was late on Pat.
Our persistence was such that it was Henry who stopped Ridgepole on a break in our own half. Crosses, moves, solos and fine play continued as Villa sometimes got close enough to hang on to shirts but more often didn’t.
A shabby dive by Moore was all Villa had to excite their fans before Freddie rode two fouls before being downed by Djemba-Djemba just outside their box. The keeper punched Dennis’ ball in as far as Reyes who volleyed it wide. There was a good tackle by Senderos on Moore before Reyes saw off De La Cruz. Pat got through once again but having turned Ridgewell inside out and seemingly set himself the spot he picked was just the wrong side of the far post. Lauren saw off Angel. A good throw from Jens saw Cole and Reyes belt away down the left and the ball into Henry gave us another chance but his shot was wide. Arsenal had won the first half on just about every blade of the wet Villa pitch and all Villa could offer in return was another offside call against Angel in the minutes added time. An emphatic first half.
Quite why no one attended the pitch or why their substitute keeper was allowed to further ruin the goalmouth during the break I can’t imagine. This shabby treatment of the pitch would not be tolerated by Arsenal’s groundsman. It’s all part of the gulf that exists between Arsenal and Villa. The potential is there for both clubs but Villa seem a million miles behind the likes of Arsenal these days.
As is quite normal Freddie was out for the second half long after the others had taken up their places. Villa did a bit more after the break but considering how little they did before it they hardly made up any ground and didn’t impress until far too late. Arsenal don’t do slaughters, it’s as if they win the game and then sit back saving themselves for our next game, so we didn’t expect a cricket score, but half a dozen and a clean sheet wasn’t beyond us had we really needed to. Henry to Reyes for a fast break and a corner. Dennis fired over after another break down our left. Edu was still playing very controlled football and Arsenal were passing Villa to death. It upset some Villa players and certainly Samuel who took out Freddie who was turning him over. So a yellow card for Samuel in a match that was tough but never dirty, mainly because they couldn’t get near enough to kick us. Pat put Thierry away on a run and as Djemba-Djemba tried to assault Freddie Edu sorted him out. ‘Djemba-Djemba is a wanker, is a wanker’. Edu then made him look a complete prat with some ace skills. Freddie was fouled on the edge of their box but ref Steve Bennett waved play on as the ball fell to Henry.
Double substitution: Pires for Bergkamp and Flamini for Edu, both of whom had been very impressive. A rampant Villa with pride to play for had another break down the right, which Lehmann did very well to dive out and clear as Ashley complained about the support he was receiving at this stage. Arsenal countered and got Cole clear but his cross saw Freddie fire over from beyond the far post. Lehmann out well again. A good move that put Henry in with a chance on our right saw him forgo a shooting opportunity in order to slip Pires in who passed into the net, but the offside flag was up against Pires. An overhead kick at the other end was cleared before Cesc replaced fellow Spaniard Reyes. Hitzlsperger found the side netting which misled quite a few Villa fans who were deceived by a rippling net into thinking it was in.
Brilliant play by Rob found Pat who looked for a killer pass. Villa pressed again but Jens took the cross with ease. Hitzlsperger did Pat who stayed down injured and to the annoyance of Villa fans came back on to show just who was in charge of the midfield by displaying a storming little passage of play. ‘Cheerio’ was being sung to the departing Brummies before Henry was denied by Sorensen and still being sung as Pires hit the post from a shot that appeared to be partially blocked, but a goal kick was given. Three minutes of added time and three worthy points for Arsenal.
We were back on track and once again firing on all cylinders.