BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Yossi Benayoun of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal at Villa Park on December 21, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
1-0 van Persie 17'
1-1 Albrighton 54'
2-1 Benayoun 87'
Arsenal returned to winning ways by grinding out a victory at Villa Park against a spirited Aston Villa team. The Gunners were not at their best, just a mere 3 days after defeat against Manchester City, but Yossi Benayoun's header saved their blushes, and won a valuable 3 points.
With Alex Song suspended and Johan Djourou injured, Arsenal made two enforced changes. Emmanuel Frimpong came into the midfield, while somewhat surprisingly, Francis Coquelin started at right back, a position he is uncomfortable at. Charles N'Zogbia's constant running at Coquelin made the young Frenchman even more uncomfortable. Coquelin was too eager to win the ball back, and stayed too close to N'Zogbia, allowing the Villa winger to get in behind him. Eventually, Coquelin would get booked, and although he'd improve in the second half, his performance was poor overall. N'Zogbia was involved in Villa's early attack, with Szczesny saving Agbonlahor's header from N'Zogbia's cross. The two combined again minutes later, when N'Zogbia beat Coquelin, but Agbonlahor's shot was wide of the Arsenal goal.
Villa were pressing Arsenal's midfield, like so many teams have done successfully this season. This, however, left lots of space in behind, which Theo Walcott exploited when he won a penalty. After turning Ciaran Clark, Walcott was tugged down by the Villa midfielder, contact, which although started outside the box, finished inside the box. Robin van Persie scored his 34th Premier League goal of 2011, tying Thierry Henry's record, when he slammed his penalty into Brad Guzan's net. Walott and Ramsey had chances to extend Arsenal's lead, but failed to do so. The goal, however, took Villa out of the game, and Arsenal, chiefly through the once again excellent Mikel Arteta, imposed themselves on the game.
Villa started the second half pressing again, and got an eqaliser after Guzan's goal kick was headed back by Vermaelen towards Mertesacker and intercepted by Albrighton, who slotted under the oncoming Wojciech Szczesny. It was poor from Vermaelen, who made a bad pass, and also poor from Mertesacker, who hesitated. It was also the 20,000th Premier League goal.
The goal put the wind back in Villa's sails and they began to press hard for a go ahead goal. Arsenal's midfield was poor, with Frimpong and Ramsey both having bad passing games. The latter is clearly need of a rest, while the former needs a loan period to enhance his footballing ability but also positional nous. The introduction of Tomas Rosicky for Frimpong and Benayoun for Ramsey saw Arsenal perform much better with the ball. They regained control of the midfield and became more incisive. Andrey Arshavin came on for the disappointing Gervinho, who again lacked support of his fullbacks, despite the best efforts of Thomas Vermaelen to get forward. Arsenal also missed the barnstorming runs through the middle that Vermaelen makes, runs that have created goals in recent weeks.
Arsenal thought they had won a penalty when Robin van Persie sashayed his way past two Villa defenders, and was then blocked off by Stephen Warnock. The referee, however, gave Robin van Persie a yellow card for diving, a decision that confused many. Arsenal continued to pass and probe, but also, frustratingly cross the ball in from the right, onto the waiting head of Richard Dunne. It lead to lots of corners, 14 in the second half alone, but most were wasteful. Finally, though, van Persie's flighted ball was met by the 5'8 Benayoun, who guided his header down and past Brad Guzan. Arsenal held onto their nerve to close out the game; Aston Villa didn't, and the thuggish Alan Hutton earned two yellow cards in a minute, the second for a bad tackle on Thomas Vermaelen. Not a pretty performance, but some very important 3 points, which means Arsenal will gain on at least one, if not both, of Tottenham and Chelsea.