Saturday, March 1, 2008

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa: Match Review

Arsenal managed to stay at the top of the Premier League table after a nail-biting draw with Aston Villa which was settled in stoppage time by a late equalizer from Nicklas Bendtner. The Gunners have only taken two points from their last two games and are now only one point ahead of last season's Premier League Champions, Manchester United.

An own goal from Philippe Senderos gave Aston Villa the lead after 27 minutes, and with Arsenal lacking a decisive touch in the final third it looked as though the Gunners would suffer their first defeat at the Emirates this season. However, young Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner showed some of the fighting spirit for which Arsenal has become renowned, denying Villa at the death with one of the last actions of the game.

Manuel Almunia; Gael Clichy, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, Bacary Sagna; Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb; Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor

Aston Villa: Scott Carson; Martin Laursen, Wilfred Bouma, Curtis Davies, Shaun Maloney; Gareth Barry, Nigel Reo-Coker, Ashley Young, Craig Gardner; John Carew, Gabriel Agbonlahor

The game started with a frenetic pace more typical of a match between Manchester United and Arsenal than one between the Gunners and the Villans.

The first decent opening came for Arsenal in the seventh minute when Emmanuel Adebayor flicked a long pass to Theo Walcott on the edge of the area. The England international, who had scored a brace against Birmingham a week earlier, took the ball on his chest and turned towards goal before firing a low shot which Scott Carson was forced to turn around the post at full stretch.

It had been a positive opening for the league leaders, but Martin O'Neills' Aston Villa are far from walkovers, and created a chance of their own when a sprint from the speedy Gabriel Agbonlahor saw the Villa striker almost alone in the area. An incredible saving tackle from William Gallas spared Manuel Almunia from making a save.

18-year-old Walcott was the source of inspiration for Arsenal in the early exchanges, as his pace saw him run past three defenders before sending a cross too far into the area and out for a goal kick.

Philippe Senderos had a chance in the Villa box after Carson had spilled a corner, but the Swiss international defender could only poke a shot horribly wide after being surprised by the gift of an opportunity.

The central defender, standing in for the injured Kolo Toure, put one in goal in the 27th minute though, after a cross from Agbonlahor saw Senderos divert the ball past his own wrong-footed keeper to give Aston Villa the lead.

The home side were stunned by the mistake and it showed as Villa almost doubled their lead only for Manuel Almunia to acrobatically push an effort from Shaun Maloney onto the frame of the goal.

Arsenal regrouped, but were unable to penetrate the Villa defense, going into halftime 1-0 down after a disappointing showing.

The home side were strong in the opening minutes of the first half, with Walcott forcing another good save out of Carson after a neat one-two with Cesc Fabregas. Space opened up for Alex Hleb about twenty yards out from goal, but the Belorussian, not known for his shooting skills, hit a tame effort well wide.

Villa were strong on the counterattack though, and Agbonlahor forced another full-stretch save from Manuel Almunia after a shot from the edge of the eighteen-yard-box.

Substitute Marlon Harewood almost grabbed the second for Villa after brushing off the ineffective Philippe Senderos, but was denied by yet another fine save from Almunia.

As the ninety minute mark approached it looked as though Arsenal were going to be subject to their first home defeat of the season. However, a good spell of possession for the Gunners finally resulted in a last-gasp goal as Nicklas Bendtner stabbed home from close range to give the Gunners a valuable point.