Yossi - delivered when Arsenal needed
I've only really seen the Match Of The Day highlights from last night so I can't really comment too much on what happened in the game. It seems that Villa had the better of things for large parts of the match, but the makeshift defence stood up pretty well (apart from the goal), and Szczesny was outstanding again. The team selection was interesting, with Coquelin coming in at right-back. I hope that Miquel has got a knock, and wasn't simply dropped from the squad last night as he did nothing wrong at Manchester City (or in any other game he has played this season in the first-team). From what I've read it appears that Emmanuel Frimpong struggled last night, but we shouldn't be expecting too much from teenagers coming in to the side like that. The introduction of Tomas Rosicky (in place of Frimpong) seemingly sparked the boys in to life going foward, for the first time in the game, but I think he might well be gone within the next few weeks.
The penalty decision was an easy one for the referee. Theo's turn was excellent, and the foul silly. Robin Van Persie was not going to die wondering with his penalty as it was smashed emphatically in to the roof of the net. I really hope he can get the goals he needs against Wolves and QPR to break Shearer's record. Later in the game the referee had an even easier decision to make for another Arsenal penalty, but inexplicable booked RVP for diving. This yellow card MUST be rescinded. The decision was scandalous and could have easily cost Arsenal the points on the night. I think the only time I've seen this ref before was in a game at Goodison Park the other week when he made a similarly outrageous call. Just add him to the list of incompetent idiots.
Villa's goal was a giveaway by Arsenal. I suspect Mertesacker is going to get stick for his part in it but, for me, the fault lies with Thomas Vermaelen. The Verminator should have cleared his lines and hooked the ball away up the line. Instead of that he sold Mertesacker too short with a poor pass across the defence, and Albrighton showed his pace and skill to finish well under Szczesny. Albrighton looks a real prospect, and I'm surprised he's been so peripheral at Villa this season, though McLeish doesn't like skill in his team, does he?
If Arsenal had conceded the winner in the same way then we would be going mental about it - one of the shortest men on the field scoring with an unchallenged header inside the six-yard box. I am delighted for Benayoun. The little Israeli looks a real trier when he comes on, and he should have had far more game time than he has enjoyed since signing for the Club. When you see Arshavin coming on week after week, and ponceing about without any effort whatsoever, you have to wonder why Benayoun and Chamberlain have spent so long kicking their heels. I would not be disappointed at all if Arsenal landed Benayoun on a permanent deal - he would be a first-class squad player, with plenty of experience and quality.
The win last night was incredibly important. Coming off the back of the mugging in Manchester it was crucial that the three points were won. Liverpool failing to win at Wigan was a bonus, and now we need a draw between Tottenham and Chelsea tonight to set us up nicely for Christmas (hopefully with a serious injury or two on both sides, and maybe a 22 man brawl which leads to points deductions and suspensions galore).
I will cover this more in the pre-Christmas post, assessing the season to now, but to be in this position is a pleasant surprise following the start we had.
I'm quite pleased the Wolves game has been put back by 24 hours. I would not have been attending the 3 o'clock kick-off had it been on Boxing Day (what is wrong with midday, like we used to have?) By moving the game I will now be in my usual seat, and that is a bonus. The pre-Christmas assessment piece will, hopefully, go up tomorrow night, with the briefest of posts to follow on Christmas Eve. After last night I am in the mood for a very good Christmas, and I finish work for the holiday at 8am tomorrow. Get in.