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Posted: 21/12/2011
By Michael Strevens

Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal: Last gasp Yossi steals the points

Team: Szczesny, Coquelin, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen , Frimpong (Rosicky), Arteta, Ramsey (Benayoun), Walcott,, Gervinho, van Persie

The Short Report

Super sub Yossi Benayoun popped up with a late header that that handed us a crucial win to make sure we bounced back from Sunday’s defeat and stayed firmly in the hunt for a Champions League spot.

The AL Report

If Sunday’s defeat in Manchester had an element of bad luck about it, last night’s win was quite the opposite. This was far from a convincing performance, but what we lacked in fluency was more than made up for with spirit and desire. In the end it was one of our unsung heroes who dragged us over the line to ensure we came away from Villa Park with three priceless points.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the weekend. Johan Djourou’s injury meant he was forced to shuffle his defensive pack yet again. This time it was Francis Coquelin’s turn to audition at right-back, ahead of Ignasi Miquel. Emmanuel Frimpong came in for the suspended Alex Song in midfield.

Villa have been in dire form of late, but any illusions that they would give us an easy ride were dispelled pretty quickly. They put us under pressure from the start and could have taken the lead in the seventh minute, had Gabriel Agbonlahor ‘s well-placed header from a corner not been brilliantly kept out by Wojciech Szczesny.

Charles N’Zogbia was giving Coquelin a tough time on the right as the hosts were clearly targeting our weaknesses. We were standing firm but unable to get much of a foothold on the game until Richard Dunne conceded a corner from Gervinho.

Villa defended Arteta’s dangerous ball well but his quick throw-in from the clearance allowed Theo Walcott to take full advantage. Picking it up on the edge of the box, he spun away from Ciaran Clark only to be tugged back just inside the area.  Referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot immediately for only our second spot kick of the season. It was a soft penalty for Villa to concede, but a fair decision. Robin van Persie powered it past Brad Guzan for his 34th goal of 2011, equalling Thierry Henry’s club record in the process.

Two minutes later he turned provider, sending a superb ball through to Walcott whose first time shot was kept out by the onrushing Guzan. Another sublime touch from the skipper set Aaron Ramsey clear on goal, but under pressure from Stephen Warnock he struck it early and was well wide of the post. Villa had a few chances to equalise before the break but we managed to see out the rest of the half. The absence of Alex Song was clearly felt, as Frimpong conceded possession cheaply on numerous occasions. Thankfully this was balanced by another mature shift from Arteta, whose influence is growing from game to game.

In the second half, we invited more pressure from Villa and they only had to wait nine minutes before getting back on level terms. Thomas Vermaelen’s header back to Per Mertesacker fell short allowing Marc Albrighton to nip in and take full advantage, slotting it neatly past Szczesny. It was a defensive cock-up of monumental proportions from two players who had been steadfast up to that point.

Mertesacker had a chance to make amends minutes after the restart when Walcott’s powerful run into the box forced a corner. Van Persie whipped it in and a scramble in the box allowed the German to stab it towards goal only to be denied by the impressive Guzan.

Wenger sent on Tomas Rosicky for Frimpong as we looked to force a winner. The substitution gave us much better balance going forward and we started to gain the upper hand in the final twenty minutes. Van Persie was absurdly booked for diving after colliding with Warnock in the box. Replays showed that he was going down before the challenge came in, but it was still a ridiculously harsh decision.

With nine minutes left on the clock, Andrey Arshavin and Yossi Benayoun entered the fray and both made an immediate impact. Benayoun was heavily involved in a move which resulted in van Persie firing over the bar, whilst Arshavin had an effort that deflected over off Alan Hutton for a corner.

As Robin stepped up to take the kick, my brother uttered the immortal words ‘we never score from corners’, just as Yossi stole in to nod us into the lead. Amidst the euphoria of scoring a late winner, it was a great moment for the Israeli who has earned many admirers for his attitude and application; even his opportunities have been limited since his arrival.

Hutton’s moronic behaviour made stoppage time eventful. A needless shove on van Persie and a clash with Benayoun saw him booked, and then he earned himself a nice little break over Christmas by hacking down Vermaelen and getting sent off. It just about killed off any hopes that Villa had of getting a second equaliser and allowed us to see out the final moments comfortably. We are unlikely to gain three more hard-earned points all season.

Man of the Match

Mikel Arteta was composed and calm throughout, keeping us ticking over at a time when his less experienced team-mates were struggling.

Player Focus

Emmanuel Frimpong had a night to forget and looked visibly distressed in the second half as yet another pass went astray. Hopefully the good result and his considerable reserves of self-confidence will allow him to move on quickly. He is a hugely promising talent, but with the transfer window looming, the boss must be considering a loan move to help him smooth out those rough edges.

Moan of the Match

Robin van Persie’s booking for diving was exceptionally harsh. I must admit that I thought he was going down before contact was made, but Warnock utterly failed to make contact with the ball and was lucky to escape punishment himself.

The Final Word

A penalty and a header from a corner were untypical Arsenal goals in what was an untypical Arsenal performance. The squad is being tested to its limits by the full-back situation and we clearly suffered without Song in the heart of midfield. Villa caused us plenty of problems, but we kept going and forced a winner that was the product of sheer determination. Hopefully we can get through the final two games of the year unscathed before adding some much needed reinforcements.

Next up: Relegation haunted Wolves come to visit on Tuesday after the tube strike forced the postponement of the game that was supposed to be played on Boxing Day.

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

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