Arsenal returned to winning ways with a gritty 2-1 win over Aston Villa after their disappointing result at Manchester City – Yossi Benayoun grabbing an 87th-minute winner. The Gunners had come into the game with a fantastic record at Villa Park – six wins and six draws in their last 12 visits.
The match will not live long in the memory for its quality, but history will show this was the match in which Robin van Persie drew level with Thierry Henry’s all-time Arsenal record of 34 league goals in a calendar year and by scoring Villa’s equaliser, Marc Albrighton became the scorer of the 20,000th Premier League goal.
Although Arsenal typically, dominated the majority of possession (62%) they were hindered by injuries to six defenders and were forced to play Francis Coquelin at full-back for the first time in a league match. The ridiculous bad luck Arsenal have endured this season in defensive positions, is illustrated by the statistic – the Gunners have now named 21 different starting back four combinations in their 28 matches in all competitions this season. Amazing.
This nervousness helped Villa start the brighter. Charles N’Zogbia and Albrighton both began with intent to pressurise Wenger’s makeshift defence. The tactics produced two clear opportunities in the opening 10 minutes. N’Zogbia, in particular, was sharp, delivering a perfect cross onto the head of Gabriel Agbonlahor that was brilliantly saved by Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal’s first goal came on 17-minutes against the run of play. Theo Walcott turned Ciaran Clark to create space inside Villa’s penalty area, only to be impeded by his opponent. The decision to award the penalty was clear and referee John Moss was in the right place to award it. Van Persie’s penalty was emphatic and slammed high past Brad Guzan – to the Dutchman his 16th goal of the season so far in the league.
The league’s top scorer is now just two away from Alan Shearer’s league record of 36 in a calendar year and with two home games to come against Wolves and QPR, no-one would bet against the Dutchman making his own piece of history before 2011 is over.
Albrighton’s historic goal came in the 54-minute, after a Thomas Vermaelen headed pass was intercepted by the England-U21 player and finished neatly past Szczesny with the Arsenal defence exposed.
Tomas Rosicky, Andre Arshavin & Benayoun were all brought on by Arsene Wenger, as the Gunners searched for the vital winner. The pressure eventually paid off when the Israeli international stooped to nod home at the far post from Arsenal’s 15th corner of the night.
As you can see from the statistics above (via our Stats Centre powered by Opta) Arsenal dominated possession. However, despite having almost double the amount of accurate passes as Aston Villa, the contest was very even. Much of the credit for this must go to the home side who battled throughout. This is summed up perfectly by the statistic that shows they won an extraordinary 84% of their attempted tackles.
The Gunners have though if anything become less fragile than at the start of the season and are now able to grind out a result – they have now taken 25 points from a possible 30 in the league.
Mikel Arteta made the most passes with 76 of which 69 were accurate (91%). The Spaniard attempted 25 passes in the attacking third, completing 24 (91%).
It is also worth mentioning, Coquelin who despite playing out-of-position played a key role in Arsenal’s win. The youngster started nervously and his passing accuracy suffered as a consequence. Although, he finished the game with 63%, at one point this was as low as 27%. However, the Frenchman was vital in other areas. Coquelin attempted nine tackles & won six. That was more than the entire Arsenal defence put together, who were successful with four of their attempted five tackles. Furthermore, the makeshift right-back attempted 22 ground duels & won 15. Once again, that was more than rest of the Arsenal defence managed (21/14). Coquelin also managed three interceptions and won 2/2 aerial duels.
Laurent Koscielny was again excellent throughout, with 57 accurate passes from 68 – (84%) winning five of his six aerial duels in the Villa game. The French international defender also made 11 clearances – of which seven were successful. This matched the amount managed by the whole Gunners defence.
Special mention to Rosicky who came on at a crucial time and his experience helped the Gunners to maintain the pressure and grab the important winning goal. Rosicky successfully completed 2 tackles, completed 10/10 attempted passes in final third & completed 21/23 passes overall (91%).