At half-time today, I admit that I feared the worst. We were losing 2-0 and staring in the face of exit from a competition which, realistically, offered our best opportunity of silverware this season. Fast forward 45 minutes, and Arsenal had completed one of the more memorable comebacks of recent times. My thoughts as follows:
* On the one hand, we were unlucky to be losing at half-time. We had a number of shots on goal in the first-half, including a scorcher from Vermaelen that Given did well to palm over the bar. Villa had enjoyed less shots on goal than us, and hadn't really taken control of the game, despite their goals. The 2-0 scoreline didn't, therefore, reflect the balance of play in the match.
* On the other, who cares what statistics say - we were 2-0 down at half-time, no matter who had more passes, shots and possession. For the first Villa goal, we simply failed to defend a set-piece properly, which was criminal, as was Dunne out-leaping about four of our defenders to head home. Not good enough. The second goal was a bit more of a breakaway affair, and Bent's finish from close range was class. Football is largely about taking chances, as much as creating them, and Villa had taken theirs very well.
* People have speculated hugely about what was said in the dressing room at half-time; but one would hope that Arsene didn't really have to give the epic team talk that has been ascribed to him. I think enough of the players knew that being 2-0 was an unacceptable state of affairs, and I hope the reaction in the second half was down to quite a few of them trying to save their reputations.
* I've seen some writers question how rousing our comeback was, given that it was based, in part, on two penalties. Yet winning penalties in the manner we did was a direct result of the pressure we put Villa under. Last-ditch tackles come from team's who are struggling to hold other teams out. So I would argue that the penalties reflected how we had fought our way back into the game.
* Also, you still have to score a penalty once it's given. And Robin put both of them away with aplomb in a high-pressure situation. According to various sources on Twitter, that put him on 120 goals, equal to that of a certain Mr. Bergkamp. If that's correct, it's fairly astonishing.
* What can you say about Theo's performance? His attempts on goal were almost universally awful, but he showed grit and skill to score his second goal, and he arguably deserved his little piece of luck. A turning point for his season?
* The Ox put in another fantastic performance. Some of his passing is absolutely sublime. I wonder if he has a future in a more central role, given his ability to pick a pass. For now, he is surely now part of the first XI until Gervinho comes back. And Wenger may now have a pleasant headache over who to start between the Ox, Gervinho and Theo after the ACN ends.
* After being at fault for Dunne's goal, Koscielny proceeded to put in a massive performance. Indeed, there was something deeply ironic about seeing him being fouled by Bent for our second penalty. Koz has been massive for us this year, and were it not for Robin's goals, you could make a case that he's been our player of the season.
* The return of both Arteta and Sagna was huge. The game slowed once Arteta came on, but he gives a shape and solidity in midfield which is absolutely vital. We have looked positively adrift without him, and Arsene now has a real conundrum, with Wilshere's absence, of how he is going to manage Arteta for the rest of the year. Because while he is a great player, he does not have a great injury record, and he must not be overplayed.
* It's probably a little trite to say this, but I don't care - Alex McCleish should shut his mouth. His attempt to bring up RvP's alleged 'elbow' in the post-match interview was pure deflection from his side's (embarassing) defeat. It was exactly the same manoeuvre that Warnock tried to pull when we beat his QPR side at Christmas. If you remember, McCleish is the same manager that defended Roger Taylor to the hilt after 'tiny' snapped Eduardo's ankle in half. Here's to many more victories over McCleish teams in the future.
* Finally, this game will hopefully be a turning point for the club's season. We've had a rough January (to put it mildly), but the manner of the victory today is massive for morale - not just for the team, but also for the fans. Losing today would have been huge - it would have ended our cup run, and meant we were on a four game losing streak. Instead, we have a spirited come-back, and we remain in a competition that we have a real chance of winning. If nothing else, let's just savour the fact that we proved some of the doubters wrong today.
After the game, Ivan Gazidis gave a very revealing interview with Fox Soccer here in the US about Arsenal's current transfer strategy. If anyone has a transcript of this, please get in contact. Otherwise, my blog tomorrow may be based on my slightly hazy recollections of it....
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