While many people will tell you that Arsenal nicked a late point in the opening day of the new Premiership season yesterday that couldn`t be further from the truth. The Gunners dominated in what was the first competitive at the Emirates stadium, only lacking that killer touch.
That`s not to take anything away from a resurgent Villa side, who were well represented by both players and fans. The boys from the Midlands battled hard and were well worth their point, team unity and solidarity were there for all to see, and under the guidance of Martin O`Neil (and the signing of a striker) should be more than capable of making a top eight finish this season.
However, a more deadly Arsenal would have won the game by a clear margin, with 67% possession and 18 shots on goal the Gunners should & could have buried the tie, but nevertheless there were more positives from the game than negatives, the only gripe I would have would be that nasty habit that seems to have followed us from last season of being scared to shoot.
The Highbury, er sorry, Ashburton faithful could be heard on many occasions screaming “SHOOT” only for the player to lay the ball off to another red & white shirted player who would inevitably lose possession. That said it was the first game of the season and the rustiness will soon fade away as games come thick and fast.
Emmanuel Eboue terrorized Villa from start to finish and was by far and away our biggest threat on the day and was magnificent in tear arseing down the flanks, almost scoring on several occasions. However it was Emmanuel Adebayor who almost broke the deadlock when his towering header was turned of the line following a Cesc Fabregas corner.
Arsenal did indeed find the net 3 minutes into first half stoppage when Toure powered home a header from a freekick only to have it ruled out for offside. Not having had the benefit of seeing a replay I couldn`t say whether or not it was the correct decision.
Against the run of play Aston Villa took the lead after Jens Lehmann flapped at a corner and Olaf Mellberg nodded into an empty net. The Villa fans went crazy and it was something that you could not begrudge them after the torrid times they`ve faced over the past few years.
Arsenal battled on, shot after shot as the Gunners set camp around the Villa penalty area, but when Eboue had a shot parried back to him and his header crashed against the bar, you just got the feeling that it wasn`t going to be our day. But then, Wenger played a master stroke, and after months and months of wait young Theo Walcott was introduced to a standing ovation and the England under 21`s international didn`t let us down.
His impact was almost immediate, he ran riot down the left flank seemingly suffering no nerves as he played in front of a 60,000 strong crowd. His mazy runs and unbelievable pace was what we Gooners have waited so long to see, and it was he who engineered the equalizer.
Walcott picked up the ball wide on the left, and after nicely skinning the Vila defender on the edge of the box; he floated a beautiful cross to the back stick where Van Persie challenged Samuel for the header, the ball grazed the pair of rising heads and ball dropped beautifully to Bert who rifled an absolute unsaveable snorter into the roof of the net. Chaos erupted inside Ashburton Grove.
Arsenal then hit Villa with everything they had, and Henry came oh so close to giving the Gunners a win that would have been harsh on Villa, but would not have been undeserved.
All in all, a very one sided draw but both teams worked extremely hard for their point. For me, there were far more positives in the game than negatives.
Next up; Dinamo Zagreb.
Pretty solid but was at fault for the goal – 6
Cracking performance. Terrorized the Villa defence from start to finish – 9
Looks far from the player that left on loan to Sunderland. Proggesing nicely – 7
Solid as ever, unlucky not to get on the score sheet – 7
Looked very strong, but suffered positionally at times. However he has the power and pace to recover – 6
Looks like he was born to have a ball at his feet, but I just wish he would bloody shoot – 7
Full of running but just lack match sharpness – 6
Is every bit of a world class player. Played a lovely passing game even though he was marked through out the match – 7
The invisible wall played another great game and topped his performance of with a ripper of a goal – 8
Strong in the air and on the floor. Was a perfect link up player. I look forward to seeing more of him this season – 8
Was quiet in his first Arsenal game since the Champions League final but still found time to get in a few rasping shots – 6
Had little time to make any impact – 6
Even less time to make any impact…….but performed like a seasoned professional. Gave the Villa defence a host of problems and made the goal – 7
Did the job he went on to do – 6