Vital Victory Undermined by Defensive Sloppiness

    Samir Nasri celebrates scoring Arsenal's second

An intense affair at Villa Park on Saturday, advertising all that is enticing about the Premier League, culminated just as it had begun, with a sumptuously slick attacking move from Arsenal. Yet in spite of these moments of offensive delight, The Gunners failed to eradicate defensive failings which have consistently blighted their campaign to date.

Despite moments of characteristic defensive sloppiness from the away team, they managed to gain a priceless victory, temporarily propelling them to the summit of the league, albeit for a matter of hours. It also put a cap on a potentially endless string of bad results. Another bonus was the fact that the win here made it 5 consecutive away victories in the League, and it is this impressive away form which has been the antidote to disappointing home performances, leaving the North-London outfit still in contention as they approach a difficult time of year.

Wearing the travelling yellow worn by the Unbeaten team of 2003-2004, Arsenal fizzed into action from the off, as first Chamakh and then Rosicky went close. Both took advantage of the gaping wholes in Villa’s defensive line with admirable attempts on target, the former cunningly supplied by Andrei Arshavin. And it was Arshavin who eventually broke the deadlock, profiting from a defensive error to first bare down on Friedel’s goal from the left, before dipping onto his right foot and cannoning a low drive into the net. On the back of consistent criticism for his disappointing performances so far this season, the enigmatic Russian gave a quick sample of what he had planned for the afternoon. Consistently testing Villa’s defence with a barrage of jutting runs and electrifying intensity, it seemed the little man had been waiting for the icy temperatures of his home nation before warming the cockles of the fans, rightly claiming the customary man-of-the match Champagne after the match.

Arsenal’s domination failed to cease after the goal, and Chamakh so nearly pushed his goalscoring tally into double figures for the season as Friedel made a point blank save from the Moroccan’s header. The retired U.S.A international proved he still has the reflexes and agility to perform at the top level, yet he could do nothing about Arsenal’s second. Again Arshavin was involved, this time turning provider with a floated corner to the edge of the Villa box for the arriving Samir Nasri to smash low and hard inside the near post. It was a goal which replicated that classic Beckham and Scholes set-piece drill, and was a moment of sheer beauty and class.

Not often considered a negative scoreline, the 2-0 with which Arsenal began the second half only brought back memories of last week, and the sense that the players felt this was vindicated within minutes. Tentativeness from Gael Clichy accompanied disarray inside the Penalty box, and this was the perfect setting for Kieran Clark to find his first goal of the season with volley that flew past Fabianski, whose vision may have been impaired by Carew’s offside position. Matching the intensity of the game, Arsenal allowed no time for Houllier’s half-time words to take their full affect, and immediately re-established a 2 goal cushion. Thomas Rosicky, ever the architect, bore infield before playing a through ball of tremendous quality into the stride Chamakh. The Moroccan made no mistake this time, poking the ball through the arms of the approaching keeper. It was a goal which defied the script and should have sown up the match.

But this is Arsenal were talking about, and naturally, things like this are never straightforward. Following a deluge of pressure from the hosts, a centre from Ireland found it’s way to the unmarked Clark who leapt to grab his second of the game, the ball creeping over the line despite the attempts of Clichy. It was a lack of concentration so endemic of Arsenal’s season that the almost unbelievable scoreline was not surprising in the slightest.

The ensuing 20 minutes were to be expected, with Villa attacking boldly emboldened by a raucous home crowd, while Arsenal counter-attacked sporadically whilst unusually failing to keep possession. Finally, all was rosy again as Wilshere headed in as Arsenal engulfed the Villa penalty area in a sea of yellow shirts, despite the awkward score-line. It seems this is the law Arsenal live by, and will insist on making even the most comfortable of results as tricky as is humanly possible. A great three points, granted, yet there are negatives to come out of this game and the reinforcements brought in at Centre Back over the summer still seem to lack the company of Thomas Vermaelen, as the two French acquisitions are simply not yet good enough. Positives; well perhaps there is life after Cesc, especially when Nasri, Rosicky and Arshavin are just that scintillating. And once again, we witnessed another impressive performance by Marouane Chamakh, to not only reach the 10 goal mark few expected him to acquire this early in the season, but also to move further away from the pursuits of that moaning Dane, Nicklas Bendtner. Nevertheless, every silver-lining has a cloud, and a valuable 3 points were marred by an extraordinarily inappropriate hardship in attaining them.

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