I don’t know if you could have scripted a better scenario than the one we witnessed on Saturday. Twice going down a goal, twice pegging our hosts back, and then…madness. Absolute madness, courtesy of none other than Emi Martinez. By the time Simon Hooper finally booked him in the 84th minute for time-wasting, he had seemingly wasted a similar amount of time, and so it was all too fitting for us to find not one but two goals in stoppage time—both of them also attributable to Martineze’s own numbskullery. The lyrics to a certain 2 Live Crew song bubble up from the memory, but we’ll leave that alone for the moment.
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I reached a point at which I wanted us to score a third not so much to beat Aston Villa or take all three points or get back to the top of the table but to humiliate Emi Martinez, and, boy, did Jorginho deliver with a cracking shot from distance in the stoppage-time Martinez created with all of his time-wasting. The fact that it hit the woodwork and then went in off of Martinez himself made it all the more delicious. What can I say? I’m a spiteful, petty man. For Martinelli to then net a fourth with Martinez having come forward to try to score from a late Villa corner added some sumptuous schadenfreude.
After all, we’ve not quite secured that third-place finish. ManCity three points back but with a superior goal-difference, visit Swansea, who have won their last two by a combined 8-2 scoreline. Then again, they lost the previous two 7-0. Much as I’d love to see Fabiański do us a solid by keeping a clean-sheet against City, I doubt we can count on him to come through.
‘Twixt the two—Tottenham and Man City—a draw would secure third for us, and a win could earn us that third-place finish, sparing us in the process another Champions League play-off. Those are no small potatoes coming on the heels of Euro 2016, in which a fair few Gooners will perform. If we’re to launch the 2016-17 season in any kind of style, we would do well to lock down that third-place finish and save ourselves the angst of having a two-leg playoff against Fenerbahçe or Beşiktaş.
Therefore, it’s paramount that we pummel Villa. In theory, that should be easy. The Villans have won but three matches all season and are conceding nearly two goals per match while scoring fewer than one per. They were relegated in mid-April with four matches to play and in the midst of an eleven-match losing streak, a streak they “broke” with a scoreless draw against Newcastle. Cakewalk.
Then again, we’ve hardly set the world alight ourselves. Aside from a gritty draw at the Etihad last weekend, we’ve limped and lingered along against squads in the bottom third of the table. Even if we suggest that a few have been fighting to stave off relegation, it’s hard to look ourselves in the mirror these days. If we can summon the grit and resilience we showed against Man City again on Sunday against Villa, it’ll be lights out for them. If, however, we play the part of polite hosts as we did against Norwich the weekend before, well, it’ll be up for grabs.
I know that he’s hardly the fashionable choice of late, but I have to think that Olivier Giroud is the one to watch in this one, and not just because he scored and assisted against Man City. He showed the grim, determined look of one focused on getting a result rather than celebrating a moment. Against Villa’s back-line of Clark, Lescott, and Becuna, I’d fancy the Frenchman to fight his way free to find the back the of the net at least once. That should be enough to earn us a draw, if not a win.
Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal (13.12.2015)
Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa (30.05.2015)
Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa (01.02.2015)
Arsenal have scored 14 goals against Villa in four matches.
The two clubs first met on 1 August 1904, a 1-0 win to Woolwich Arsenal.
Mertescaker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Welbeck have all been ruled out. Özil faces a late fitness test but should be available.
Čech, Monreal, Chambers, Koscielny, Bellerín; Coquelin, Ramsey; Alexis, Iwobi, Walcott; Giroud.
While not quite claiming that Villa will mail it in, Arsenal should walk away with this one.
Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa.
Done? Sorted. Welcome back. As alluded to above, we weren’t necessarily at our best except for stretches in the first half when we took the lead; in fact, Villa even had us on the back foot for a long-ish stretch at the beginning of the second. Walcott earned us a penalty by burning past Hutton, who dragged him down in the box. Giroud sent Guzan the wrong way to earn his 50th Arsenal goal. Ramsey made a tackle just outside our area and went on a lung-busting 80-yard run to square home Özil’s pass. Čech kept his 169th clean sheet. In other words, a good day at the office.
How good? Good enough to send us to the top of the table. Man City needed a flukey stoppage-time deflection to win…at home…against Swansea, who are hardly scaring anyone (except maybe Chelsea, who might have celebrated Touré’s goal more than any actual Blues fan—um, wait. Is there such a thing as an actual Blues fan? Mind blown.). Man U did their level best to prove that there’s a difference between looking like los Blancos and playing like them, losing to Bournemouth despite wearing an all-white kit for the first time since the 1970’s. Speaking of losing, Tottenham went from 1-0 up to 1-2 down at White Hart Lane, losing in spectacular fashion to Toon, who crawled out of the relegation zone and above Chelsea in the process.
The upshot of all of this is that we’re top of the league just a few weeks after our own bitterness and infighting seemed to symbolize an impending implosion. Koscielny injured, Alexis injured, an away-loss to West Brom and a draw at home against Tottenham. The thrashing from Bayern and the disappointment at Sheffield Wednesday (with Ox and Walcott injured). Interview almost any Gooner in late November, and he or she would tell you that our campaign was all but over—no League Cup, Champions League, or Prem title to fight for with the silver lining of maybe, just maybe fighting for that third consecutive FA Cup.
Well, we’re back in the thick of things. For as depressed as any of us might have gotten, though, let’s not get too elated at the current state of things. There are still 22 Prem matches to play, and I might add that we’ve added two Champions League fixtures, as opposed to Europa League fixtures, to the mix. We’ll learn who we’ll face on Monday. The larger point to consider is that, for as dispiriting as it might have been to suffer a slump in November, we shouldn’t make too much of a rebound in December.
More important than when we are on the table is the form we’ve seen in the last three outings: eight goals scored, two clean sheets kept. A fantastic must-win in Greece sandwiched by two should-wins in England. If we can keep playing with the same determination, focus, and purpose that we’ve shown in these last three, we’ll pencil ourselves in as favourites to win the Prem. That’s a big “if”, by the way, so don’t get carried away. We have a barn-burner awaiting us next week, when we host Man City, with a result that could echo down through the rest of the season. Without jinxing anything, it’s worth mentioning that Man City might be without Kompany, Agüero, or Zabaleta. Even if they’re available, they may not be match-fit. Just sayin’.
In the meantime, we get to relish a very-real question: who should win on Monday, Leicester or Chelsea? The question would have been unthinkable at the start of the season, yet here we are. A Leicester win would send them top of the table and heap misery on Mourinho (and Chelsea). However, a Chelsea win would give us a week atop the table but resurrect notions of a Chelsea rise. What’s a Gooner to do?
As suggested above, table-position matters far less than form. Leicester’s Vardy and Mahrez are in the form of their lives. Let’s hope they batter Chelsea, ignoring for now what that means for the table. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.
Enough of enemies and friends. We, may I remind you, are top of the league. We are top of the league. Just don’t go shouting that from the rooftops.
made an 80-yard run after making a tackle to finish Özil’s selfless pass to make it 0-2. In the second half, Villa showed a bit more spark but not nearly enough to pierce our defense. Petr Čech got his 169th clean sheet, equalling David James’s record. Arsenal rise to the top of the Prem. however briefly. All in all, not a bad day to be a Gooner. Let’s get down to the poll to rate our lads!