So there we were, 10 minutes to kick-off, excited and nervous at the prospect of either holding-on by the skin of our teeth or showing off big-time and proving that the Arsenal are back! Would our smooth silky skills and fast attacking football be enough to dump Villareal out of the Champions League and set up a meeting with either the Mancs or Porto?
A trip to Porto in the spring is infinitely more enticing than Old Trafford – we have to go there anyway in May and this is the Champions League after all, where games should be against foreign opposition.
In the week since Ade scored that wonder goal to give us the edge going into this tie, team selection has been causing us some consternation. Having lost Almunia, Gallas and Clichy from that game and then Djourou on Saturday, our solid back four has been shredded. Having said that, we haven’t conceded a goal at THOF since Plymouth on the 3rd January!!!!!!!!!!!!! Will Cesc play deep or high up the pitch and who will be his partner if we are playing 4-4-2? Theo and Nasri must be a shoe-in and so the final pieces are up front Ade and van Persie.
As usual there was a surprise in store and this time its not Arsene messing around with the team selection – Sagna was out with a bug and fingers are crossed, Eboue would play at right-back…………..and what a treat that turned into! Theo and Eboue were passmasters supreme. They picked each other out at pace whilst totally controlling the right wing.
Song was preferred to Denilson alongside Cesc in the middle and as the teams lined-up it was hard to take your eyes off Robert Pires gracing the Emirates turf – how he would have loved to have played another couple of seasons for us and how we would have loved him too.
I expected us to come out of the traps really fast and Villareal obliged by giving us lots of space to play. We were quite relaxed. Adebayor had his trademark collection of off-side decisions in the opening minutes. Theo and Eboue easily beat their markers and it wasn’t long before a couple of good chances had come and gone. Were we going to rue the lack of finishing? Not for long. Theo floated a stunning ball over the top of the fast approaching goalkeeper that hung in the air for an eternity and nestled in the side of the goal. Fantastic we’d scored in the TENTH minute – dream come true.
Adebayor was his usual very annoying self – lazy and off-side far too often, but it was written in the stars that he would score and he received a great ball from Van Persie with a deft first touch (unusual) and with his second touch he scored (made it look so easy). We were 2-0 up on the hour and his name was sung with gusto around the ground. Love him or hate him – if he keeps scoring, I can’t complain.
I was worried that Song was running up blind alleys and giving the ball away cheaply but he grew in stature throughout the second half. Some of his ball play was stunning. He has skills tucked away that we can only hope that we’ll get to see more often. He dragged the ball back and twisted round, losing his marker in true Henry style. He may be the man to partner Cesc – I’d still rather an experienced DM but I’m prepared to let Song stake his claim on that position after tonight’s performance.
Cesc tried a lot of passes that didn’t come off in this game but on another night he would have been hailed as genius. He could learn from watching how Pires worked the ball making neat intelligent passes rather than going for amazing every time. Not everything was working for Cesc but was he bovvered – I think he wasn’t.
When Theo was brought down in the box and the linesman flagged for a foul Van Persie stepped up to put away a powerful penalty with clinical efficiency. 3-0 and twenty minutes still to go, with Villareal down to 10 men, unheard of for us to be cruising in this manner this season. We could just sit back and watch the football.
The scoreline made it an easy decision to make substitutions. Denilson and Diaby came on for Theo and Van Persie with 15 minutes to go and then Nikki for Adebayor with 7 minutes to go.
What I feel is really important is that this was not an awesome Arsenal performance – we won’t be reminiscing of the day Villareal came to the Emirates and we took them apart to book a place in a semi-final against the Mancs – this was an assured performance by a team that have the belief that they are really very good and that their exuberance, skill and intelligent play makes them frightening opposition.
There are a possible 11 games left for us this season. I hope our young, patched-up neo-invincibles go for glory and bring us back a cup or two……. they can be awesome.
One thing that made last night special was the chance to thank Robert Pires for his years of fantastic service. We had two of the invincibles on the pitch last night and it was significant that Bobbie made a special fuss of Kolo. Most of the crowd stayed behind and applauded Pires off the pitch and you could see he reciprocated the emotion.
Fabianski 9 Does a solid job as a sweeper too
Eboue 9 This is his position, please Arsene don’t play him anywhere else. His interplay with Theo in the first half was awesome.
Toure 9 Dependable as always, intelligently didn’t go on any runs!!!!!
Sylvestre 8 Did go on a couple of runs!!!!! Played well with Toure and his experience was important in the make-shift defence.
Gibbs 8 Love him, he makes potent runs and has a good shot, left the back-door gaping a couple of times but hey, he’s young and part of the Peachesball revolution – We’re gonna score lots more than you!!!
Theo 10 They’re my ratings and I’ll give him 10 if I want to. He brings so much to this team and last night he scored a peach of a goal.
Cesc 9 A bit quiet, nothing exciting came off for him but he’s our captain and he loves playing for Arsenal.
Song 9 Wow, this guy has come on in leaps and bounds he was everywhere and clearly has seriously silky skills.
Nasri 8 Must have been frustrating for him as all the play was going up the other wing so he had to seek out the ball.
Van Persie 9 I wonder if he was really fit, a bit lethargic in the first half but worked hard for the team. Took his penalty beautifully and deserved a goal.
Adebayor 8 Lazy, off-side aaaaarrrrrrggggghhhh and then scores a great goal, watch it again – his first touch was perfect.
Subs Denilson, Diaby – could have scored and Nikki all had a run-out but the game was over by then.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable night of football and the Chavs to look forward to on Saturday.