Seeing that tomorrow’s Spurs/Reds game was David The Yank’s 4-star selection of the weekend, this will be the Bonus review.
On a cold day in Greater Birmingham, UK, Arsenal visited Aston Villa looking to reverse the fortunes of the past week, including a home collapse against Tottenham and a Champions League loss to Sporting Braga. The Villans had only won once in their previous 5 matches, and needed to start finding their form for manager Gerard Houllier.
The first half was spent mostly in Aston Villa’s end. Aston Villa’s 4-4-1-1 formation was ineffective at generating offensive chances, and Arsenal’s brilliant passing regimen within Manager Arsene Wenger’s favored 4-2-3-1 form was in full effect. Wingers Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri were adept at getting the ball in open space and delivering crosses in towards striker Marouane Chamakh.
The scoring opened as Arshavin took advantage of a midfield mistake, and at the edge of the area cut back towards the center of the pitch. He rifled a shot through center-back James Collins’ legs and into the goal. Minutes later, Chamakh headed on goal a perfect cross from right fullback Bacary Sagna, and only a quick Friedel right hand kept it out. The ensuing corner kick by Arshavin was delivered to the far edge of the area, and Nasri volleyed the ball off the turf and past Friedel for a 2-0 lead at the half.
The Villans’ first half attacking philosophy was that of long balls in the direction of Carew, especially from right-back Luke Young. Robert Pires, acquired recently, was rather ineffective in being the bridge between the midfield and Carew, and it was no surprised that he was brought off for more firepower up front. In switching formations to a 4-4-2, Houllier brought in Nathan Delfouneso. He also swapped the wide midfielders, Stewart Downing for Ashley Young. This change brought Young more into the attack on Gael Clichy’s side, which was targeted by Tottenham the week before. With Young leading the team in assists, this would seem to be a sound strategy, and one wonders why it wasn’t tried earlier. By the numbers, Young completed only 9 passes in the first half; in the second half, he completed twice that number.
The positive change paid off at first. Off of a deflection, Clark received the ball just inside the area, and he laced a shot past Lukasz Fabianski for 2-1.
Unfortunately for Aston Villa, 5 minutes later Rosicky fed a through ball to Chamakh, who directed the ball under a sliding Friedel’s arm to regain the two goal advantage.
The final adjustment to formation came in the 67th minute as Houllier brought off Carew in favor of a midfielder, Stephen Ireland. To keep the offensive pressure on Arsenal, Ashley Young was moved forward to the vacated striker role. As the game moved into the last 30 minutes, Houllier also brought center back Richard Dunne into more offensive wingback roles.
In the 71st minute, Clark found the net again. Dunne headed an Ashley Young corner forward just inside the central area. Clark’s headed effort hit the underside of the bar and came down just inside the goal to make it 3-2. As the Villa tried to find the equalizer in the waning moments, youngster Jack Wilshere headed home a perfect setup by Chamakh from 6 yards to close out the scoring 4-2.
This game could have been sewn up more easily had Wenger made his defensive substitutions sooner, say after their 3rd goal. Of course that wouldn’t be Wenger, so you simply accept that his teams are going to leak goals and give teams like the Villans a chance to creep back into matches.
Aston Villa took too much of a defensive approach to start. A direct, disjointed approach in Carew’s direction did not produce. Houllier made adjustments to get Ashley Young the ball against the left side of the Arsenal defense, and once that started happening, chances opened up for Aston Villa. Unfortunately for Villan fans they were behind 2-0 when those changes commenced.