It may not be the first time, but it’s still unusual for the Arsenal to celebrate a draw as if it was an actual win – but like most who saw the match, none could take away the fact that Aston Villa did earn enough to garner the points. I’d say that they ‘earned enough’ because they soaked up the Arsenal’s attack with the ease and the comfortableness of a team maturing in both mentality and technical displays. Can’t say it was painful for the Villains though; the Arsenal were denied a win at Birmingham (Aston Villa is domiciled there as well) at the virtual last kick of the game and this time, the Arsenal also stole a point from another Birmingham side at the last kick of the encounter. Talk about irony.
I think it’s quite easy to say that the Arsenal players didn’t do enough – that’s only partly true as only Abou Diaby and Cesc Fabregas turned their midfield section dead in the water with their rather poor passing; but it was certainly better than 2 seasons ago where any adverse situation would be a forgone conclusion at that time. Times have changed.
Bizarre as it was, the own goal by Phillipe Senderos was rather cruel to him but what can a team do when they frequently lost possession in the final 3rd and then having to absorb 2 of the opposing side’s quick flank players cutting in from both sides with the counterattack efficiency of the Arsenal teams of old? It’s not that Aston Villa played fantastically well, as I’ve said above, I just thought that they capitalised on the Arsenal blunted attacks to turn the game around with their nippier players. Notice how the Arsenal backline struggled to contain Gabriel Agbonlahor and even Ashley Young yesterday even though I do think that given the equal set of circumstances, Theo Walcott would have aced them no problem.
It’s quite pointless for me to keep saying the predictableness is the hallmark of the Arsenal game. With the Man Ure too stinking close for comfort, I wouldn’t mind pairing Bendtner upfront with Adebayor while sweating on the fitness of Robin van Persie and Tomas Rosicky if that means that average players such as Diaby gets ousted until he starts improving.
24. Manuel Almunia – You can’t fault him for that own goal by Senderos. It’s either the Swiss or the Norwegian John Carew. I could also point out his good saves he made in the game. They weren’t spectacular shots but they all count since he displayed a steady hand to deny Villa time and time again. – 8/10.
10. William Gallas – Great tackle in the first half on Agbonlahor in the penalty box but otherwise a rather lukewarm effort. He even earned a yellow card in the 30th minute with a rash challenge (I can’t recall on who) but I’d be thinking aloud soon that he’s not a suitable captain after all. If the fight isn’t within himself, how can the team look up to him? Patrick Vieira, for his part, was excellent when he was skipper, taking the game by the horns and knocking in goals with determined, collective effort. Pity about Thierry Henry’s tenure, but you could see that title-winning Arsenal sides do have excellent captains driving the team forward with the initiative on their own. Gallas could join Thierry soon. 6/10.
6. Phillipe Senderos – had a good chance in the first half – if it was Bergkamp or Henry, it’d have sent the Arsenal fans reeling in joy but he’s only Senderos playing his own game. The own goal was unfortunate, though. He’d an ok game even though his contribution was for the other side. 6/10.
22. Gael Clichy – the early season exuberance and charm seemed to have been sapped from him; he looked clueless in containing Aston Villa attackers and wasn’t that good going forward. I’d still commend him for his great cross in the final seconds of the game to Adebayor in the box to head down for Nicklas Bendtner to score. 6/10
3. Bacary Sagna – did just ok. – 6/10.
13. Aliaksandr Hleb – hardworking player. If there is one player who responded to the call "For Eduardo!", it’s him at the forefront. Where the team looked consigned to defeat, he showed his industry and willingness to attack. Still, I’d say that he’d better take up more shooting practice during training sessions as his long ranged shots/out of box shots are either horribly wide or making the opposing goalkeeper feel good about his role at goal. His speed is also commendable and I feel that given the chance, he’d make a useful player to have when both Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby are stagnating their own midfield duties. 7/10.
4. Cesc Fabregas – early part of the season, he seemed like he has finally joined the academy ranks of the greats of football. Now, he seemed like a ghost of his formal self. What did he contribute all day? Missed passes; poor positioning; lackadaisical commitment and all the bad things top midfielders don’t usually do. The way he was revealing to the media that the Arsenal would prevail in AC Milan seemed convincing only to himself at this moment. Maybe it doesn’t even sound that encouraging to himself but he has to stand up and be counted. It may be a rough patch of form; but like all other players, if he isn’t up to it, there’s Gilberto Silva or even Denilson waiting in the wings. Don’t disappoint them. 5/10.
16. Mathieu Flamini – not as good as before but did nothing nearly as bad as Cesc did. Still, he would not look out of place in any Coca Cola League One side yesterday. 6/10.
2. Abou Diaby – First touch, ball control, chesting the ball down – can’t he even do these right? Who’s this player Wenger was signing from AJ Auxerre back in 2006? True, he may be taller than the average footballer but even that constitutional benefit did him no good at aerial dominance. If he’s still here at the Arsenal next season, he can count on warming the touchlines. 5/10
25. Emmanuel Adebayor – I’m still an Adebayor fan. Could do little if he doesn’t receive the right sort of service. That has nothing to do with his new haircut but if not for his header in the last minute to Nicklas Bendtner, who else can be counted for that aerial challenge? 6/10.
32. Theo Walcott – sparkling in the early period of the first half, sizzled out for the rest of the game. Had a great shot on goal which would have been at the back of the net but for Scott Carson’s save. Like the commentator said, it did add a new dimension to the Arsenal’s attack with his nimbleness and willingness to dribble whilst in possession of the ball. He also had a good amount of presence in the box but his end product still needs a lot of sharpening. Good one for the future. Definitely one of the players Wenger wouldn’t be thinking of offloading anytime soon like Diaby. 7/10
26. Nicklas Bendtner – great last minute salvo. He can score at the darndest times and you may silently forgive him for the unbecoming things he did to the media as far as the image of the Arsenal are concerned. That he scored with the last kick of the game deep in injury time is palpable relief not only for the team but also for the pretty good home record the Arsenal enjoys. I did think that the Arsenal was already buried by Aston Villa really deep for large pockets of the game but the surprise goal did mean that ‘winning’ in the most unlikely manner for the Arsenal isn’t such a new concept after all. 7/10
19. Gilberto Silva – poor Bert didn’t have a decent run in the team of late. I was thinking that he could be a better replacement for Cesc Fabregas now that the Spaniard is probably experiencing a burnout at the moment. He did little wrong and was tidy enough whilst on the pitch. 6/10
15. Denilson – the young Brazilian really had me wondering as to why Arsene Wenger signed him in the first place. Sure, he hasn’t had his chance to impress doubters but he certainly didn’t do anything special to warrant such a run. I’d still think that his Arsenal career is going the same way as Igors Stepanovs and Oleg Luzhny, if Denilson himself doesn’t mind adding his own long-term impression to them. 6/10.