Santi Delivers: Arsenal 2 – 1 Aston Villa – Report & Player Ratings

Final Score
Arsenal 2 – 1 Aston Villa

Arsenal were looking to bounce back from their defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich by welcoming Aston Villa to the Emirates Stadium. All week, Arsene Wenger had been dealing with mountainous pressure from fans & media alike. The Gunners needed three points.

The first half was, for the most part, unremarkable. Arsenal were dictating the tempo as expected, although Villa looked particularly dangerous via pacey counter-attacks.[quote_right]“The second period was certainly more entertaining than the first. Unfortunately, the entertainment factor was masked by the sheer tension leading up to the final whistle.”[/quote_right]

In the opening five minutes, Jack Wilshere was set free down the left-flank. He raced into the box, but instead of crossing to an un-marked Theo Walcott, he opted for the shot, which was easily saved by Guzan. I was almost certain Jack would make the right decision, but his failure to do so left me in fear of ‘another one of those days’ in front of goal.

Just two minutes later, my concerns were alleviated. Santi Cazorla’s blocked shot fell to his right foot inside the Aston Villa box. The silky Spaniard didn’t think twice about smashing his shot home, easing the atmosphere around the Emirates. It was a welcome relief.

The remainder of the half consisted of Aston Villa mounting quick counter-attacks on our shaky defence. Monreal & Jenkinson were being tested by the pace of Weimann & Agbonlahor, and Szczesney was forced into a brilliant save early on.

The second period was certainly more entertaining than the first. Unfortunately, the entertainment factor was masked by the sheer tension leading up to the final whistle.

Aston Villa began the second half with purpose, and were looking to  capitalise on their speedy counter-attacks. Arsenal continued to press, but were looking vulnerable defensively. As usual.

In the sixty-eighth minute, The Villians exposed that vulnerability. A failed Arsenal corner was quickly converted into an Aston Villa four-on-three counter attack. Weimann, who had threatened all game, sprang forward and unleashed a shot at goal. Szczesney was not prepared, and the ball slipped past his hands as he dived. Arsenal were in deep trouble.[quote_left]“Santi Cazorla may just have saved Arsenal’s ailing season.”[/quote_left]

For a long period of time, Arsenal did not look like they even wanted to re-gain the lead. Olivier Giroud was missing opportunities, and crosses were being constantly misplaced. Podolski was thrown on in place of Jenkinson, and the final push was issued.

It took until the eighty-fifth minute for Arsenal to finally break through. Wilshere played a beautiful lofted pass to Monreal, who cut the ball back into the box. Santi Cazorla had made a late run into the box, and slotted the ball into the corner. Santi Cazorla may just have saved Arsenal’s ailing season.

The remainder of the game was edgy for Arsenal. Villa were keeping the ball well, and were putting long-balls into the box. But The Gunners stood firm, and a huge sigh of relief was heard around the stadium as the final whistle blew.

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[title]Arsenal Player Ratings[/title]

Szczesny: [5.5/10]
Extremely poor attempt at saving Weimann’s shot, but made a brilliant save in the first half. Dealt well with crosses.

Jenkinson: [7/10]
A solid game from the Englishman. Dealt with a number of attacks well, and put in some extremely useful crosses. Should have done better to clear the ball leading to Weimann’s goal though. Replaced by Podolski.

Vermaelen: [6.5/10]
A steady game for the Skipper. Made one or two good tackles and managed to get forward during open play when Arsenal needed a goal. Can’t complain, but needs to step up his game.

Mertesacker: [6/10]
A better display than the one he gave against Munich, but Per is certainly not in the best of form. Didn’t make any major mistakes, but he isn’t reading the game as well as he usually does.

Monreal: [7/10]
Nacho had a good game defensively, but flourished when going forward. He put in one or two good crosses, and linked up well with Cazorla all game. Did brilliantly to get an assist.

Arteta: [6.5/10]
A few misplaced passes and a soft defensive display, but overall Arteta kept the game flowing from deep. I noticed a sharp improvement in his performance when he was pushed further up the pitch. Hardly surprising, considering that is his natural position.

Diaby: [7.5/10]
Abou, who for some reason was benched for the Munich game, played a number of excellent aerial balls forward. His passing was neat, and his sheer presence always comes in handy. disappointingly injured, again, and replaced by Ramsey.

Wilshere: [6.5/10]
Not one of Jack’s finer days, but he still worked hard for the team. His passing was not as crisp as usual, and he made a terrible decision in the opening few minutes, by not passing to Walcott in the box, and instead opting for a hopeless shot on goal.

Cazorla: [8/10]
MOTM. Today, Santi Cazorla finally put in the performance we’ve been longing for. He was played on the wing for the majority of the game, and thus couldn’t boss the midfield, but he certainly bossed the scoreline. His first goal was well struck, and his second was a combination of a good late run into the box and a clean, composed finish.

Walcott: [6/10]
Theo was in and out of the game, and didn’t really pose much of a threat to the Villa defence. Although in fairness, I can think of at least two occasions where his team mates chose not to pass to him, despite being in a great position.

Giroud: [5.5/10]
Olivier had a plethora of chances to score today, but he just couldn’t put them away. Header, left foot, right foot. Nothing seemed to work. Giroud always works hard though, and he is movement off the ball was superb. Needs to work on his finishing.

Subs:

Podolski: [6/10]
Had limited time to get into the game, but he allowed a cross to go past him inside the six yard box, despite the Goalkeeper being out of goal.

Ramsey: [6/10]
Didn’t creat anything of any value. He was played in a defensive role, and one can argue that he played that role well.

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[title]Santi Delivers[/title]

Phew. The final half our was extremely tense, and for patches, Arsenal looked down and out. Dropping points would have certainly doomed Arsenal to Europa League Football next season, but right at the last moment, Santi delivered.

Arsenal now have a week’s rest before facing Tottenham away from home. Without doubt, it is the game of the season. A win is needed if Arsenal are to claim fourth, and a loss will be the death-blow to our 17-year Champions League qualification dream. No pressure then.

What did you think of the Arsenal Vs Aston Villa match? Share your views in the comments section below.

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