Villa 2-4 Arsenal - Match Report
Attendance: 38, 544
I've never really been quick to praise Arsene Wenger, but you really can't deny how much Arsenal have developed under his tutelage.
They play brilliant football, although it's not particularly nice when your team is on the end of it, and sometimes you just have to admit that you were beaten by the better team, which I believe Gerard Houllier himself has come out and said in his post-match interview.
The fact of the matter is that it really was men against boys at times, especially in the first half, and while our young prospects were on the end of a different type of lesson this time 6 days ago, you would hope that today will provide another cornerstone in their footballing education.
We certainly weren't short of effort, but you don't get good results against the big 4 by just working hard. We need to take our chances and we, overall, need more of an end product.
So yes, while we do have a good future, as after all they do have Gordon Cowans, Kevin MacDonald and Tony McAndrew to learn from and devolp under, that's all it is for now, a future.
This is also the first time I can remember that we have played one of the big 4 and not got over 40,00. Is this the first, very early sign of unrest of the Houllier era? I hope not, as he needs time to build his team and, without wanting to wish mine of any other Villa fans' lives away, every game we play is a step closer to January and that process beginning.
Speaking of the attendance, I have to leave a special message of contempt to the smug sod of an Arsenal fan sat in the row in front of me a few seats away who kept giving everyone who dared criticise his beloved Arsenal, who never even hid the fact that he wasn't going to celebrate any of the Villa goals and who left the ground with the biggest grin on his face you've ever seen. That's another thing I hate about playing the big 4 at home, away fans in the home end.
Considering our current injury crisis, I wouldn't have been that upset if you'd have said to me that the only reason Villa lost in the end was because of Arsenal's skilful counter-attacking due to a spirited fightback, but the defence that we put out today was our first choice, normal defence, and that is tremendously disappointing.
Now, there wasn't much to talk about from a Villa perspective in the first half (which is why I've left talking about the actual match until now!), as Villa made a terrible start and Warnock gave the Villa faithful a sign of what was to come as his misplaced pass gave Arshavin the chance to put Chamakh through but our Brad rushed out to his feet to prevent Villa going one down in the opening minute.
Rosicky and Nasri also went close with the latter absolutely tearing Stephen Warnock apart at times, and although Villa did have a chance through Ashley Young after Clark flicked on Disco Stu's cross, nobody inside Villa Park was really surprised when Arsenal took the lead.
The diminutive little Russian ran down Villa's left-hand side without having anyone near him and ghosted past stand-in captain Richard Dunne with terrifying ease before finishing at Friedel's far post.
I think most of the Villa faithful, going on past form, thought that this might prove the catalyst for Villa waking up and actually taking the game to Arsenal, but it wasn't to be as the Frenchman who terrorised England at Wembley, Samir Nasri, rounded Brad Friedel almost straight after Arsenal scored and missed, badly. He soon made up for it though.
Virtually on the half-time whistle, Arsenal took and corner and with Nasri given the freedom of Villa Park, he picked the edge of the penalty area to stand and volley home via an unlucky deflection off Luke Young.
The first-half ended with Brad Friedel making a fantastic save from a close-range Chamakh header, that, in all honesty, should have made it 3-0 and game over.
Villa were booed off at half-time and although I didn't join in with it myself, it was a deserved verdict from the paying faithful of an absolutely shocking first-half 'performance'.
Villa seemed to have a bit more fire in their belly at the start of the second-half, as Nathan Delfouneso replaced the ineffectual Robert Pires as Houllier changed to two strikers, and found themselves back in the game unexpectedly quickly, on the evidence of the first-half showing at least, after Ciaran Clark volleyed a fantastic effort from the edge of the penalty area past 'Flappyhandski' and into the back of the net.
The joy was short-lived however as minutes later Chamakh slotted past Friedel to restore Arsenal's two gaol advantage, in what was shaping up to be a very entertaining second-half of football.
Villa again fought back with twenty minutes left in the game, as Clark got himself on the score-sheet for the second time after narrowly managing to bundle the ball home after Richard Dunne managed to knock-on a corner.
Stephen Ireland also got the final twenty minutes and sprayed some nice passes about and, in my opinion at least, looked genuinely comfortable. It's probably safe to say that Ireland contributed more to the team in the time he was on than Pires did in the entire first-half, although how difficult that was is open to debate.
As Villa pushed forward to try and find a equaliser, there was always a niggly possibility that Arsenal would get another goal on the counter-attack and so it proved when Jack Wilshere nodded in a cross unmarked from close-range.
So, we've got a break from trying to earn league points in midweek as we make a short trip to B9 in what promises to be a feisty battle for a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals. I hope that we can at least use the fact that it's not a league game to get rid of some of the shackles and play a bit. If we do, I'm confident we can win as we have better players than Blues, even with our injury crisis, but by god, don't we know that it'll be nerve-wracking?
So, that just about wraps things up for this week, with just the ratings left to fill in. I've tried to change the style of how I write for this slightly, as I want to try and spark more comment and debate as I know that many people watch the game somehow anyway so I'm not sure many people want to read just a summary of the match. If anyone has any comments about what the think of this report or if they think I should go back to the style of previous reports, feedback would be much appreciated.
Brad Friedel 6
Luke Young 6
Stephen Warnock 5
Richard Dunne 6
James Collins 7
Stuart Downing 6
Ashley Young 6
Ciaran Clark 8
Barry Bannan 6
Robert Pires 5
John Carew 5
Nathan Delfouneso 6
Stephen Ireland 6
Chris Herd N/A