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Gunners fail to hit the target as do we!


John
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A good performance witnessed by a third very good crowd in 8 days against an Arsenal side that could have gone top with a win showed that we are not for being distracted by our forthcoming Cup Final in the league as we had already demonstrated on Saturday we would not be in the FA Cup!

This was a goalless draw but it was far from being a drab affair and the football played at times by both teams was not far short of being exhilarating. We were not quite able to add Arsenal to the scalps of Chelsea, Liverpool and fellow cup finalists Manchester United that we have already claimed this season but we did play a big part in what was a cut and thrust game that I thought we had the better of. We also showed once again that we can be more than a match for what was once seen as an exclusive club.

We created some decent opportunities, pinged the ball around at times and worked very hard last night. Yes, Arsenal did hit the woodwork twice and they have the habit of turning games around by hitting the back of the net when they are not particularly dominant in games as they showed against us a month ago but for long periods we had them on the back foot and reliant on breaks. For me we had the best of the first half although they had their moments and do have a cutting edge that we lack. They started strongly in the second half but as the half drew nearer to its conclusion it was they who were waiting to hear the referee’s whistle that brought them relief as it did so often during the course of the game. I suspect if their players and fans were honest about the game and if their manager had seen enough of it to draw a conclusion they would have been more than happy to have taken a point from the game they had seen as the easier of the next four fixtures they were to face prior to last night.

My player ratings from a game that left us just outside the top 6 and now goalless in 4 successive league games are:

Brad Friedel – 6 – Solid enough when tested on a night where he had cause to thank the woodwork twice. Pushed a Denilson shot out for a corner on 8 minutes and then saved well with his feet from Arshavin who had gone past Cuellar and Collins on his way into the box on 60 minutes. The loose ball was then touched on by Fabregas to Rosicky whose shot hit the underside of the bar. Brad was well protected for those free kicks Arsenal had near the edge of our box by the walls he set up but I do wonder if we should have a defender on the post when someone such as Fabregas is standing over a free kick in a promising position.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Again played out of position due to the need for Luke Young to do the same to cover for injury or would he have been played there anyway? Got forward more often than might have been anticipated and did well enough when doing so. But, was out of position on 16 minutes when he chased the ball over the other side of the pitch and Fabregas found himself unattended, in oceans of space and fortunately also unnoticed by his team mates. Had a couple of dodgy moments late in the game but again gave a decent performance in this role which is not his best one.

Richard Dunne – 8 – MOTM - Very solid last night and a welcome return to the heart of our defence. Won some particularly important balls towards the end of the game when our defence has been prone to buckle in the past against the likes of Arsenal. Richard also went on a rampaging injury time run to turn defence into attack and threaten to win the game by himself until he was pulled back by Campbell who amazingly escaped any punishment for the offence.

James Collins – 5 – Yet to get back to his commanding best following his return from injury. Failed to connect with a Clichy cross early in the second half that Freidel had some difficulty in dealing with when it got through to him and had a few other less than convincing moments.

Luke Young - 7 – Spends almost as much time in this position as his own and although I am sure he would prefer to be on the right that is still a better option than warming the bench and he is willing to move across for the good of the team if not his own. Another solid and dependable performance.

Stewart Downing – 5 – Did some positive things during the game and did some decent covering back but this was not a particularly good day at the office for Stewart overall. Might have done better on 32 minutes when an Ashley Young cross fell to him at the far post that he hit well over. Then looked destined to score on 49 minutes when Ashley’s cross took a deflection to lift it over Almunia and to him on the far post but his header went well wide and a great opportunity went begging.

James Milner – 7 – Again worked tirelessly and played an important role for the team both when we had the ball and when we were without it.

Stiliyan Petrov - 7 – Worked exceptionally hard and kept Fabregas relatively quiet for much of the game the main exception being when their captain waltzed past him all too easily in first half injury time on the way to taking the ball past Collins’ challenge and striking a shot against the foot of the post.

Ashley Young – 7 – No more than a foot wide with a good free kick from the edge of the box on 13 minutes after Heskey had been brought down. Ash then had a diving header swallowed by their keeper on 59 minutes. Another hard working and encouraging display. He was prepared to run at their defence and hit a few dangerous crosses into their box as well as doing his fair share when they had possesion.

Emile Heskey – 8 – This was a vastly different Emile to the one we have seen most of the time up until now in a claret & blue shirt. He worked very hard, showed some touches of pace and also got more than a little angry before being substituted when arguing his case with some venom to the referee before being booked by him at the very next opportunity he had to do so. When he ballooned a shot over the bar on 28 minutes it was the first foot he had put wrong it may also have been the last. Keep it up Emile!

Gabby Agbonlahor – 8 – Came closest for us to scoring on 3 minutes with a good shot that Almunia pushed wide after being found by Heskey. He held the ball well, used his pace to good affect, worked himself hard and was a constant worry to the Arsenal back line. The only thing that both he and his strike partner lacked was a goal.

Substitutes:

Fabian Delph – His display against Brighton earned him the call from the bench on 77 minutes when he replaced Emile. Not on long enough to rate on this occasion.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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