Date: 25th March 2012 at 6:53pm
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I begin penning my impressions on the home game with Aston Villa on Sunday evening, reflecting on almost the perfect weekend. On Friday evening, my sister gave birth to her first child and my first niece after four nephews. Come Saturday morning, it was time for my debut in the annual Arseblog 7 aside tournament. With no small amount of pressure (!) I was placed on the green team, who had taken the trophy home for three consecutive years. On this occasion, we lost in the final on penalties. From a purely selfish, personal standpoint, lashing home the winning penalty in the semi final, scoring a last gasp equaliser in the final and slotting my penalty in the final shootout meant I came out feeling I had lived up to the demands placed on me!

With a face slightly reddened by glorious morning sunshine and calf muscles besieged with cramp (go easy on me, it was my third game this week), we took to the Tollington pub for a few refreshing warm down drinks to see Chelsea and Spurs play out a beneficial 0-0 draw. For Arsenal, the day`s endeavours were nothing close to as difficult. Villa`s set up suggested they came to counter attack, with the speed of Agbonlahor and the craft of Ireland deployed in behind the, ahem, “industry” of Heskey. Heskey`s two most telling contributions were to clumsily leave his arm in Djourou`s face and for his own fans to mockingly sing, “Emile Heskey, he scores when he wants” at him. That said, Villa fashioned the first clear cut opportunity of the day when they broke menacingly from an Arsenal corner.

Albrighton tore down the right with nothing but green grass in front of him. Agbonlahor and Ireland sprinted up in support with only Djourou covering. Thankfully, Albrighton showed the composure and confidence of a hungover Sunday morning 5 a side hopeful as he lashed the ball over with far better options. It was really as close as Villa ever came as the Gunners began to hum through the gears. Walcott and Sagna played a quick fire 1-2 on the right; Sagna`s angled pass found van Persie, who flicked back to the onrushing Walcott. Shay Given was equal to Theo`s shot. But Arsenal were soon in the lead.

Gervinho threw a deceptive stepover to create some space on the left and played in Kieran Gibbs in the channel, who had peeled away from Hutton. Gibbs sidestepped the most disgracefully idle attempt at stopping an opponent as I have ever seen from Petrov. Gibbs had time to set himself before hitting a low shot from an acute angle which Given fumbled into the net. Gibbs` first Premier League goal for Arsenal. Thirteen minutes later, the Gunners were two ahead. Villa were harried into giving the ball away in their own half, leaving Song to collect. Because Song`s deeper role gives him more time on the ball than our other midfielders, he has time to time and again pick sumptuous passes from deep. This time he found the onrushing Walcott running in from the flank. Walcott`s steadying touch was exemplary before coolly slotting the ball under Given. The first time Arsenal had had two English goalscorers in the league since October 1997, when Platt, Parlour and Wright registered in a 5-0 win against Barnsley.

The fruits of Arsenal`s high pressing game were once again made plain when Rosicky closed down Collins on the edge of his own area. The ball dribbled to Sagna who touched to Arteta, he had time to set himself and send a fizzing shot goalwards which was tipped over by Given. It would prove to be a mere range finder for the Spaniard. A third looked to be on the cards and it would only have told a fraction of the story of our dominance. Rosicky`s flighted pass found van Persie; he nodded the ball down to meet the run of Song. The Cameroonian controlled and played van Persie back in again, he collided with Hutton and the ball ran loose. Van Persie reacted quicker, leaping to his feet, caressing his studs over the ball and shifting it away from Given before prodding towards goal. Unfortunately Stephen Warnock was back to make a spectacular diving headed clearance from the goal line.

At half time, with Villa lacking the guile of N`Zogbia and the poaching of Bent, there was simply never any danger of the away side turning the tables and avenging our comeback from a two goal deficit in January`s F.A. Cup tie between the teams. That said, the home side did become sloppy and striking a balance between energy preservation and complacency when enjoying a run like we are is a difficult one. Arsenal didn`t create nearly as much in the second half. Some substitutions livened things up. Notably when Rosicky played a pass to Ramsey on the edge of the area; he allowed the ball to run through his legs before lashing an 18 yard shot just wide. Arsene decided to give Andre Santos a first taste of first team action in nearly five months and his rustiness nearly cost when he played a pass straight to Villa`s own sub Gary Gardner on the edge of the area. Gardner pulled a ball across goal to find no willing runner. Had Bent been playing it might have been a different story.

The match rather petered out until Mikel Arteta reignited the fuse in stoppage time. Substitute Eric Lihaj lunged at Song and was probably fortunate to only receive a yellow. A free kick was awarded over 30 yards from goal and Arteta put his laces through the valve of the ball, causing it to sling like an arrow into the corner of the net. A fulminating strike befitting of his performance and sheen added to the score line which truly reflected the story of the game. This was the first game in which Arsenal had scored without van Persie either scoring or assisting since Swansea in September. The manager pointed afterwards to the natural balance we had regained through the return of our fullbacks, meaning our threat was more varied. This is true, but it`s also true to say the team is simply working harder too. We created chances in the first half, simply by pressing Villa in their own half and making them surrender possession. Gervinho was given a prolonged ovation when he raced back fifty yards to challenge Albrighton. That collective effort must remain in each and every game. from 7amkickoff This piece brilliantly exemplifies that collective will necessary, where every player is required to do every job. We`re managing it at the moment. LD.

13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS (11.A.Santos `68), 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA, 14.WALCOTT (15.Chamberlain `78), 27.GERVINHO (16.Ramsey `68), 10.v.PERSIE(c). Unused: 21.Fabianski, 25.Jenkinson, 29.Chamakh, 30.Benayoun.

P.S. Have just arrived home from Borehamwood. The Arsenal Ladies beat Everton 2-1 today to qualify for the semi finals of the F.A. Cup. More on that in next Friday`s Ladies and Reserves column.

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