In a game that Arsenal completely dominated for an hour, on their home pitch, Aston Villa managed to escape with all three points and guarantee their safety. Take nothing away from Villa; they were very good in the early going and both of Darren Bent's goals were well set-up and well deserved, but there was very little else in the way of danger from the visitors. Villa played well and did what was needed, but they didn't win this game. Arsenal lost it. The defense was fairly solid, but in the end it was down to Arsenal not converting their chances and Brad Friedel making several very good saves.
And of course, it was also about some very, very bad refereeing decisions going Aston Villa's way. Half an hour in Richard Dunne absolutely wiped out Aaron Ramsey as the young midfielder squared to shoot from inside the box. Dunne caught Ramsey on the leg, studs up, and as far as I've been able to tell made absolutely no contact with the ball. It should have been a penalty and at the very least a yellow card but referee Michael Oliver waved play on. Marouane Chamakh had a header disallowed for reasons that only Oliver could possibly understand. At the very least Arsenal should have had 2 goals and a 70% chance of a third, and while the Gunners were far from their best they probably deserved a win. Arsenal had 68% of the possession, and while that can often be a misleading statistic in this case it was not. The ball was in Aston Villa's final third for the vast majority of the second half, Gary McAllister having opted to sit on the lead and bunker. It's hard to argue with the results, but it certainly made for a nerve-wracking 45 minutes.
I feel as though I am coming off as overly critical or a bit of Negative Nancy, so I think it's important to reiterate that I was thrilled with the quality of play and effort on display from Aston Villa and it should go without saying that I am thrilled with the win. Villa got some breaks and for once the post was our friend, but considering the luck we've had this season it's hard to feel too guilty about that. If Villa play as well as they did today consistently, they'll win a lot of games. Villa fans should be thrilled with that performance. But objectively, it's hard not to feel just a little bit bad for Arsenal.
Or not. Whichever.
- Darren Bent has now scored nine goals for Villa, and none have been prettier than his first today. Bent is a poacher first and foremost, but that finish was a thing of absolute beauty.
Ashley Young did not have a particularly active day in the attack (although his assist on Bent's second goal was superb) but he was incredibly disruptive in defense and put in a great deal of effort. I still think he's gone in the summer and I still think he's a pit of a prick, but the amount of hatred he gets for perceived laziness and lack of caring is both misplaced and astonishing.
- I was very hard on Gary McAllister in the lead up to this game and while I would have liked more drastic changes to the XI than just Fabian Delph, I have to give him credit for going with the 4-3-3 in this game. It paid off brilliantly at the start and prevented Arsenal's midfield from shredding Villa's in the manner that I had anticipated. I still don't like McAllister and would prefer he go far, far away but credit where it's due.
- Emile Heskey came on for Delph in the 90th minute. I would imagine that McAllister's instructions to him were "Go in there and be tall."
- It was just 15 minutes and Villa were very much in bunker-and-pray mode, but Michael Bradley looked far, far better today than he has in any of his other appearances at Villa. He was composed, didn't dawdle on the ball, looked very much up to pace, won some headers in the midfield and had a few very nice passes during Villa counter attacks. I've been critical of Bradley and still don't quite understand the point of bringing him in, but I also think he's a good player with a great deal of potential and would very much like to see him get a start against Liverpool. We could use a but of size in the midfield next season and Bradley certainly provides that; if today was a better indication of where he is than his previous appearances, I think he's worth hanging on to.
- Richard Dunne looks like he is in constant pain. I mean, he probably is to some extent, but it's uncomfortable watching him sometimes. He had a very good game today, but I'd imagine he spent a pretty good chunk of time in the ice bath afterward.
- Arsene Wenger spent much of the day with an expression on his face reminiscent of that of a man who just found out his daughter has been doing fetish porn for drug money.
- Maraoune Chamakh's hair is easily the most ridiculous hair I have ever seen and this is a man that plays on the same team as Bacary Sagna and Alex Song. I mean footballer hair is often bad, but good heavens.
So, not a bad day all things considered. It's nice to have safety 100% guaranteed, and with Liverpool having a bit of a run of bad form at the moment it's not especially crazy to think a win (or at least a point) is a possibility next week. This season has been godawful, but it would be lovely to end it on back-to-back high notes.