Arsenal see themselves step out into a bright world, blinking in the light of ‘tests’ upon ‘tests’ upon ‘tests’ passed. Did I emphasize enough that Arsenal cannot be tested enough? Take, for instance, this collumn on Setanta Sports (which, for a sports-provider is embarrassingly and poorly written), which says that Manchester United will still win because they’re Man Utd and we’re just Arsenal.
And perhaps you would have believed the nay-sayer, after Arsenal went behind to Aston Villa early on in the 14th minute of play. John Carew – that tall, dangerous striker Arsenal fans know all too well of – outdid Kolo Toure for pace down the flank, jinked away from the defender and sending in a bobbling cross that deflected off both Toure and Gallas, for Craig Gardner to finish. Villa Park is a great ground filled with great supporters, and the place duly erupted – Villa’s form was ominous, having won four on the trot, and suddenly some were thinking that Arsenal still had a dire European hangover.
It was a doubt that started to de-materialize quickly, and was duly eradicated nine minutes later. Eboue shuffled in from the right wing in his distinctive way, feeding in Sagna. Sagna’s cross on the byline scythed through the box to eventually find an onrushing Mathieu Flamini, who shot first time off the left foot to equalise impressively. Running down the left in celebration, Flamini lifted his shirt – Henry style – to reveal a handwritten message?/name?/taunt? of “KATITA“. The best I’ve come up with is that Katita Waldo was a Spanish ballerina, which is some pretty irrelevant trivia for you. Anyone with ‘the knowledge’, let us know.
Soon enough, Adebayor had made it 2-1. The beanpole striker leapt high and proud above two observers (defenders) to nod Arsenal into the lead – contrast this with the Arsenal of old, who hardly ever, if ever, scored from crosses into the box. Wenger’s proved his adaptability, and the team have proved their resourcefulness.
That is, of course, failing to take into consideration the near-pummeling the team received in the second half, as Aston Villa did their very best to equalize. This included – a cynical hack from Carew to upend Hleb and leave us with more edge-of-seat injury news; a lovely dive from Ashley Young to find a penalty in the 88th minute; as well as some pacey and dangerous interplays that saw Arsenal on the back foot.
It’s rather cynical to highlight Villa’s cheap shots in a half that they really did dominate, and Arsenal were fortunate to come out with maximum points after Carew hit the crossbar with a powerful header. Nevertheless, Almunia only had two saves to make in the match, in spite of the pressure the defence found themselves under.
What is fantastic about the win is that it signals the ‘good-for-all-seasons’ mentality that has been instilled in the side. Flamini replaced Fabregas as the lingering midfield threat, and Diarra emulated Flamini’s traditional role of defensive midfield harrier.
No ratings today, as I resigned myself to listen in on the radio when the stream collapsed after half-time. Players of note, however, include Toure, Hleb, Adebayor, and – need I say it? – Mathieu Flamini.
Toure did what he has always done, and thats fuse a gutsy performance together with last-ditch tackles and good marshalling of the defence. Adebayor frustrated many in the opening minutes of the game, but effectively shut them up with dangerous flirtations with the Villa defence, and a goal to boot.
Hleb and Flamini are the special players, though. Hleb, before getting hacked to the ground by Carew, finished an astonishing 39 passes out of an attempted 40. His dribbling is as accomplished as ever, and he carries an aura of danger around him against players who actually bother to study their opponents instead of scare themselves witless with endless Portuguese hype.
And then, there’s Flamini. The reason we can compete with Manchester United for 90 minutes, the reason we can attack the very face of the old Northern bogey, and the reason we can muster three points while playing very much within ourselves as we did in the second half. He now surely must be the ultimate utility player – initially proving his credentials as a makeshift leftback in our Champions League run two seasons ago; popping up with vital goals last season; this season he has shown fight, dogmatic harrying of the opposition, and the ability to attack in Fabregas’ absense.
No ratings today: My stream went down and was forced to watch dots on a screen alongside listening to the radio, but the man of the match would be a pick between Flamini and Toure. Both are vital to what title-challenge we have in us – and to the naysayers: that is correct. A title challenge.
In other news, Adebayor has praised Aliaksandr Hleb, saying Hleb’s ability on the ball makes him an astounding player. Adebayor says:
“He is a very good footballer, we know that, he is one of the main players in the squad. He has the technique, he has the ability and I think he is one of the greatest players I have played with.“
And there you go. Reasons to maintain one’s faith in this burgeoning side. Newcastle is up next, with an underfire manager in the form of one Messrs Allardyce. Fancy your chances? You’d better.