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Gibbs accepts the gift that keeps on Given

Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 0

Gibbs 16, Walcott 25, Arteta 90+3

One of the most frequent accusations levelled at the Arsenal squad of 2011/12 is that they are a one-man team dependent on Robin van Persie‘s goals. But on a day when their talismanic captain had one of his quietest games and failed to add to his Premier League tally of 26 for the season, the rest of the side stepped up to overwhelm a dire Aston Villa. Kieran Gibbs set the ball rolling as he became Arsenal’s 17th league goalscorer of the campaign, and the result was already long decided by the time Mikel Arteta rifled home an injury-time free-kick to confirm Arsenal’s seventh consecutive Premier League victory.

Arsene Wenger initially made just one change to the side which won its sixth game in a row on Wednesday night, 1-0 against Everton, recalling Gervinho in place of Aaron Ramsey, but a knee injury sustained by Laurent Koscielny in the warm-up forced the last-minute introduction of Johan Djourou to the starting line-up.

Szczesny

Sagna – Djourou – Vermaelen – Gibbs

Song – Arteta

Walcott – Rosicky – Gervinho

van Persie

At Villa Park just before Christmas, Yossi Benayoun‘s 87th-minute header gave Arsenal a hard-earned 2-1 victory, after a Per Mertesacker slip had allowed Marc Albrighton to cancel out Robin van Persie’s first-half penalty.

Given gifts Gibbs the opener in a one-way first half

Arsenal effectively killed the game off with two goals in the first 25 minutes as Villa had no answer for their pace down both flanks. With full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna bombing forward in support of Gervinho and Theo Walcott at every opportunity, the visitors found themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed on several occasions.

A first league goal for Gibbs (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Such a rapier-like attack almost allowed Walcott to open the scoring in the ninth minute. Sagna played a quick one-two with him and crossed for Robin van Persie, whose back-heel set up Walcott for a shot which Shay Given managed to beat away. The rebound fell to Sagna, whose hurried shot was skewed harmlessly wide.

The Emirates crowd did not have to wait long for the opening score, however. The last thing Villa needed was to gift Arsenal a goal, but that’s exactly what they did. This time Arsenal moved the ball down the left flank. Marc Albrighton backed off Gervinho as he advanced, allowing the Ivorian to slide a pass between three statuesque defenders for Gibbs. The full-back’s left-foot shot was straight at Given, but squirmed under his body at the near post. It was a gift, providing Gibbs with his first Premier League goal.

Walcott's sixth league goal of the season effectively put the game beyond Villa (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Arsenal needed little encouragement to continue pouring forward, and nine minutes later they doubled their advantage. Again Villa were the architects of their own downfall. Carlos Cuellar‘s sloppy ball out of defence went straight to Gervinho, and Alex Song lofted the ball into the box for Walcott. The England winger controlled the ball perfectly with his first touch and coolly opened up his body to side-foot the ball home with his second.

Villa simply had no response to Arsenal’s waves of attacks, and Given partially atoned for his earlier error to prevent further embarrassment before the interval. The Irish keeper tipped over a powerful long-range effort from Mikel Arteta and denied van Persie’s attempted chip. But the best save of the game came not from Given but from defender Stephen Warnock. Van Persie headed the ball to Song, who charged forward and returned the ball to his captain. He initially slipped but bounced straight back up, moved the ball out from between his feet and around Given, only to see his goal-bound shot spectacularly cleared by Warnock’s full-length diving header. It was little short of miraculous that Villa were only two down as the half came to a close.

Arteta adds the full-stop

The visitors were more competitive in the second half – they could hardly have been less so – but even so they failed to force Wojciech Szczesny into a single save. Their only chance of note came when substitute Andre Santos, returning to action after a three-month absence, casually gave the ball straight to Andreas Weimann, whose effort from seven yards resembled a cross more than a shot.

Arteta capped a fine individual performance with a memorable free-kick goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Although their play dropped a gear or two in the second period, Arsenal continued to create the better chances. Tomas Rosicky brought a good save out of Given with a long-range strike. Substitute Aaron Ramsey created space for himself on the edge of the box before dragging an effort just wide. And fellow replacement Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had the crowd on their feet as he ran half the length of the field only to be denied by a superb last-ditch tackle by Stephen Ireland.

However, unsurprisingly for a team which had scored after the 90th minute in three of its previous five league games, Arsenal saved the best for last. Song was fouled close to 35 yards out and Arteta stepped up to drill a fast, rising free-kick into the top corner – no dip, no swerve, just pure power and placement. You will not see a more sweetly struck goal all season. It put an emphatic full-stop on a dominant 90 minutes as Arsenal extended their league winning streak to seven and their advantage over Tottenham to three points.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsene Wenger was delighted by arguably his team’s best sustained performance of the season:

I felt it was a very dynamic, fluent performance in the first half with top technical quality. It was a controlled performance in the second half, we controlled the game and managed not to concede a goal. Overall I am very happy, very pleased because we managed to score goals and not concede any. We have consistency at the moment.

He also commented on how it felt to have risen from 17th to third in the table:

At the time [we were 17th] I agree it was a dream to be in third but what you do is come in and do your job as well as you can, stay positive and work hard. I was optimistic because the attitude of the players was positive every day. We have gone through difficult times, we have learned that nothing is guaranteed and we must keep humility and focus to finish the season in a strong, convincing way.

And he explained Laurent Koscielny‘s late withdrawal from the side:

Koscielny had tendinitis in his knee when he woke up this morning. He tried in the warm-up but could not play. Straight away after the first run he said he could not even move. How bad it is we have to assess.

Sometimes mere statistics do not tell the true story of a game, but on this occasion they do. Arsenal dominated this game from start to finish, a fact borne out by the fact they enjoyed 72% possession, completed more than three times as many passes as Villa (534 to 152), and had eight shots on target versus none for the visitors. Individually they had the top eight passers in the game – Ireland and Warnock were the only Villa players to successfully make more passes than Szczesny. None of the visitors’ players completed more than nine passes in the attacking third – Arsenal had eight with at least 16.

The home side’s domination stemmed from two key areas: midfield and the flanks. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta moved the ball quickly and efficiently, and were quick to snuff out potential threats when Villa had possession. Tomas Rosicky‘s constant desire to move forward quickly and directly was also a key component of the team’s rapid tempo. The Czech has looked like a completely new player over the past few weeks, and has been a key part of Arsenal’s resurgent form. Out wide, although Gervinho still lacks sharpness, his hard work and his combination play with Gibbs pinned Villa back, while the one-two thrusts of Sagna and Walcott (and later Oxlade-Chamberlain) down the right have become Arsenal’s key source of fast-break attacks. Robin van Persie had an off-day by his standards – even so, he was unlucky to be denied by Warnock’s amazing goal-saving header and could easily have scored on a couple of other occasions.

Arsenal can only take encouragement and confidence from a performance like this. There are several difficult games still to come – and next Saturday’s visit to relegation-threatened QPR should not be underestimated – but the team’s momentum is looking increasingly convincing as those around them falter.

Arsenal man of the match: Take your pick. From a dominant defence to a boa constrictor midfield to devastating penetration down both flanks, this was close to a total team performance. Personally I would pick Mikel Arteta, but Sagna, Gibbs, Rosicky, Song and Walcott were all superb.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

9 Responses to Gibbs accepts the gift that keeps on Given

  1. jumpingpolarbear says:

    If only Arsenal had started this run earlier in the season!

    • Tim says:

      True. But I’ll settle for us keeping going until 3rd spot is secure. Still plenty of tricky games to go, so let’s hope the team can maintain the momentum.

  2. Raman says:

    sagna 4 me..
    Beast in defence,won all d aerial balls..and gelled well wid theo..

    • Tim says:

      Sagna was indeed excellent. His performance level is so consistent from game to game, and you’re right to note that his presence is also bringing the best out of Theo. Long may it continue!

  3. CB says:

    Two things went wrong this season:

    1) the tranfer window. I’m positive that AW said years ago that May is the most important month of the transfer window. The signs are that he is getting back to that philosophy
    2) no fullbacks in December/January

    With both OK we might be challenging, with one OK we would be in a certain 3rd place

    Looking forward to next season, with one or two quality additions and Wilshere back.

    • Tim says:

      Agreed that the summer transfer window was a disaster, although our last-minute purchases have done pretty well, all things considered. (Except for Park, obviously.)

      The full-back situation was a bit freakish and I would have liked to have seen a short-term solution, but I’ve never thought a permanent signing would have been the best solution. Now that Sagna and Gibbs are back, we look like a different team – more solid defensively and more threatening in attack.

      Assuming the Podolski deal does happen, our most important signings this summer would be RvP and Theo. I’d like to see a new face or two in addition, but if we can convince those two to sign on we will be in better shape. Then if we can ship out some dead wood (Vela, Denilson, Bendtner, Chamakh) and ensure we sign quality depth for the squad we will have had a good summer. I’m not convinced we need lots of big buys – assuming RvP and Theo stay, Podolski plus one other starter plus 3-4 squad players would be a good window for us.

  4. Sheree says:

    I’ve been stealing myself to read this, sure that it would make for an uncomfortable read. Well, I was correct. It did. Dismal reading for Villa fans and frankly I see no way out of our we should be so lucky middle-table-mediocrity.

    • Tim says:

      Albrighton had an early chance, but that was pretty much it until the late Weimann opportunity. I have to say that 3-0 was, if anything, kind on you. With Heskey effectively on his own up front, you never looked like scoring. But McLeish will be more alarmed by the defensive lapses, with each of the first two goals being gifts.

  5. Pingback: Slip-ups bring Arsenal crashing to earth « The armchair sports fan

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