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Gunners work for their 3 festive points


blandy
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John Reports

A draw would have been the much fairer result but not for the first time a late goal and our inability to defend set pieces did for us.

This was so much better and although in the cold light of day it produced a third successive home defeat it was a defeat with some honour rather than a meek surrender of the type we had witnessed against Manchester United and then Liverpool already this month.

The players showed some true grit last night and the crowd responded to them by applauding them at half time rather than by booing them as has been the more regular half time reaction this season to date. A similar level of commitment at home against the likes of Swansea, Everton and QPR would be likely to see us take the lions share of the 9 points that are on offer to us in the coming weeks but we need to show the fighting spirit that has been so lacking to date consistently from now on if we are to keep some distance between us and the coming dog fight that is building up at the foot of the table.

Big Eck selected a side that suggested we were looking at taking the game to Arsenal rather than just hoping to keep a clean sheet for 90 minutes or even to minimise the extent of our defeat as has appeared to be our objective more than once this season. For much of the game we looked like getting something from it other than the defeat with honour that we can take from it into the rest of the festive fixture list and beyond. But, we did spend an increasing amount of time defending in the second half and they scored from the 11th of their second half corners and it seemed increasingly likely with each corner conceded that we might be destined to be undone eventually by one of them.

But we did make them work for their win and their first goal came from their first serious attack and from the penalty spot. There were several occasions that we were inches away from getting a touch that might have given us a goal before Albrighton did but although we left the ground defeated the lion was stirred and showed it can wound even the top 6 when it is ready for a fight.

My player ratings from a game that has left us now in the bottom half and only 5 points clear of the bottom 3 are:

Brad Guzan – 7 – Brad gave another solid display and is proving an able back up during Shay’s prolonged absence. Made a decent save from Mertesacker on 55 minutes to keep the score level and could not quite get his outstretched hand to the late winner. He had earlier done well to race to the edge of the box and to get himself in the way of a Walcott effort after van Persie had put him through on goal having threaded a ball between Dunne and Warnock.

Alan Hutton - 6 – Probably his most effective game for us to date but it was marred by his late sending off when the red mist had descended and he allowed himself to be baited by van Persie into getting a second yellow for what was a rash challenge on Vermaelen.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Demonstrated last night why we should not be looking to sell him for a pittance next month. This is a solid defender who slotted back nicely into the central defensive role that he has not had many opportunities in of late.

Richard Dunne – 8 – MOTM - He was immense last night and attacked the ball with great relish when danger presented itself. Back to his solid best and seemed to enjoy playing alongside Carlos.

Stephen Warnock - 6 – Hit the odd loose pass and miss-directed cross but he proved effective enough both at the back and when getting forward.

Marc Albrighton – 8 – Hit a sweet equalizer on 54 minutes. He deftly touched a loose ball past Mertesacker and then side footed the ball through the keeper’s legs and into the waiting net for a rare home goal for us. His crosses were a thorn in the side of Arsenal and this was much nearer the level of performance that we had hoped to see from Marc this season and he will be hard to rest after this game. This performance and the 20,000th goal in Premier League history will have done much for his confidence level.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – Produced a captain’s performance last night and kept the midfield ticking along.

Ciaran Clark - 6 – One rash moment on 17 minutes blemished what was otherwise another promising display from this youngster who must surely get a run in this team soon. Walcott beat him outside the box and was advancing into it when Ciaran tried to pull him back with his arm and the resultant penalty appeal was never going to be turned down nor was van Persie likely to miss the opportunity to get a goal against the run of play.

Stephen Ireland – 6 – Replaced through injury just before half time and was given a good hand by the crowd on leaving the field. Looked lively and keen in the 45 minutes he had and he has the invention that is short supply at Villa Park that may yet make him a first team regular if he can get somewhere near his form and fitness levels of past years in Manchester. Just failed to get onto a good cross from Albrighton after Petrov and played a well timed ball into the winger’s path on 23 minutes and 15 minutes later also just missed getting a touch onto a good Hutton cross that had followed a marauding run forward by the Scot.

Charles N’Zogbia – 7 – Looked good again last night. It has taken him longer than had been anticipated to settle in but he is now producing something much nearer the displays he did for Wigan and both he and Marc gave Arsenal’s makeshift full backs a bit of a torrid time last night.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – A welcome return following suspension and on another night might have got his name on the score sheet at least once. His fifth minute header from a good N’Zogbia cross was parried out by the keeper and he just failed to get a touch to a cross 6 minutes later after a good long clearance by Guzan was challenged for by N’Zogbia who did well to get the ball over to him. Gabby also just failed to get a foot to a good strong Albrighton cross on 28 minutes. He will have been unhappy with the space Benayoun was able to get into behind him for their late winner from a corner.

Substitutes:

Barry Bannan – 6 – Replaced Ireland near the end of the first half on 45 minutes and nearly scored with his first kick that had resulted from N’Zogbia having been felled just outside of the box. Barry hit the free kick inches wide with Szczesny a spectator as it hit the netting at the rear of the goal.

Nathan Delfouneso – Replaced Marc on 88 minutes but was not on long enough to earn a rating.

A Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all of my readers!

John Lewis

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Yes, allowing a 5' 2" forward to grab the winner in the dying minutes underlines Villa's continued weakness.

It was also sad that Arsenal were weakened defensively and yet Villa could not take full advantage of it.

Above all, though, Villa's attitude was a big improvement, yet Villa must raise their attitude for the next two games and try to get some points out of them - sitting only 5 points off a relegation place is not a comfortable affair!

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