By Randy Osae
Arsenal’s miserably stumpy season returned to it’s reality as Aston Villa’s first triumph in north London for 15 years brought the Gunners back down to earth after two matches of bliss.
The Premier League title is not won in November, but it can be well cast away during this period – and may have been for Arsenal.
Wenger has less than often kept the same eleven for consecutive league games this season. He had been tempting to earn the dubbing of “rotation man” these days. But the manager stuck with the same side that dismantled Manchester United last week.
It was a day that began with much look of resilience rather than lack-luster – because Arsenal were chasing not bossing from the start.
After escaping a blatant goal-scoring threat from Villa, Arsenal failed to fully clear and Theo Walcott was sighted by referee Mike Riley to have fouled Ashley Young on the edge of the area.
Young took the duty of inflicting Arsenal an early set-back from the penalty spot and indeed, he was bound to, until Almunia – not for the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last of the day – pulled off a superb save as Gallas quickly followed to put the ball out of play. But had Gareth Barry not been injured by Fabregas yellow-carded tackle prior to that penalty, the English midfielder would have been a better bet to dent Arsenal from the spot.
But level they still were. Arsenal had been second best on their own turf. In the corresponding meeting last season, Young and especially Agbonlahor’s pace was the decisive factor – and it was no different this time. The pair constantly troubled Arsenal’s back four.
Steve Sidwell then volleyed a dangerous chance straight at Almunia. Soon after, Villa broke into Arsenal’s territory and Gareth Barry had been perfectly set up. All the 27-year-old had to do was tap the ball home but fortunately, Almunia and other guards denied the visitors again.
Arsenal’s 4-5-1 formation was successful a fortnight ago, but Villa looked unfazed every time the Gunners threw forward some pressure, which also had a very inactive Bendtner. And after a long spell of pure ineffectiveness in attack, Arsene Wenger eventually grew anxiety and sent on Vela and Adebayor to replace a dull Diaby and Bendtner after an hour.
Ironically, it was after those changes that matters worsened. Villa finally issued their punishment with 20 minutes left. Through the famous combination of Young and Agbonlahor, they went ahead.
The latter deluded Clichy with his challenge to let Arsenal’s fullback nod the ball past Almunia after a pin-point cross from Young. Bacary Sagna had been shoved down injured during the event but there were no excuses. Arsenal’s wounded defender though, did get stretched off after the visitors celebrated their goal.
Inevitably, Arsenal were going to end their relaxation after the concession of that wicked goal, and Adebayor’s faint header off Clichy’s cross brushed off Friedel’s fingers and the post.
Usually, Arsenal avoid a fatal blow in the midst of a comeback surge. But they did fail to for once, as Agbonlahor raced off Laursen’s clearance of an Arsenal attack and easily made light of Gallas as he stroke to beat a helpless Almunia.
That was it.