Aimed at McLeish or at the referee?
0-1 Dunne 33'
0-2 Bent 45+1'
1-2 van Persie (pen) 54'
2-2 Walcott 56'
3-2 van Persie (pen) 61'
A flurry of 3 goals in 7 second half minutes from Arsenal erased a halftime 2-0 deficit and sent them into the 5th round of the FA Cup, where they will face either Middlesbrough or Sunderland. After 3 straight defeats in the Premier League, it was the kind of response Arsenal needed, and should bolster confidence before a very important month of February. The return of Mikel Arteta and Bacary Sagna should also help a thinning and tiring squad.
Arsene Wenger made 2 changes from last Sunday's defeat against Manchester United; Francis Coquelin replaced the injured Johan Djourou, and Lukasz Fabianski came in for Wojciech Szczesny, who was rested. The home side started brightly enough, with Thomas Vermaelen testing Shay Given from range, as did Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Theo Walcott was played in behind the Villa defence by Tomas Rosicky, but he failed to shoot on target. Arsenal were dominating possession, but, were hampered by their classic Achilles heel, set pieces and counter attacks. Villa worked a corner into a 2 v 1 situation, and only Aaron Ramsey came out, giving Robbie Keane time to cross for Richard Dunne, who headed home over Lukasz Fabianski. Fabianski had almost gifted Villa a goal earlier, failing to pick up Darren Bent's header, and he could've been more decisive here. It's hard to imagine Szczesny staying on his line.
Arsenal upped the tempo and tried to respond, and very nearly did. Aaron Ramsey robbed the ball off of Alan Hutton in the penalty area, but instead of cutting back to Walcott, which would've been difficult, shot at Shay Given, winning a corner. From that corner, though, it was Aston Villa who scored. Darren Bent out ran Alex Song and Francis Coquelin, before shooting at Fabianski. The Pole did well to parry the shot out wide, but was too slow to get up as Bent, from the side, slotted the ball home past a despairing Alex Song. 2-0, and it looked as though Arsenal were on course for their 4th loss in 2012.
Their main problem was lacking end product and penetration against a dogged Aston Villa defence. That improved in the second half; Per Mertesacker's header was cleared off the line, and Aaron Ramsey was played in by Theo Walcott, but failed to get the ball onto his right foot. It was Ramsey's run, though, and Alex Song's throughball that won Arsenal a penalty, when Dunne took out the Welshman. The ball was away from Ramsey, which may have been a reason why Dunne wasn't sent off. Robin van Persie took the penalty, and sent it into the bottom left corner, giving Arsenal hope of a comeback.
Two minutes later, Arsenal were level through luck and the persistence of Theo Walcott. Tomas Rosicky's little toe poke set him off, and he easily beat Stephen Warnock and Richard Dunne. Seeing nothing in the middle, he tried to squeeze it past Shay Given, who saved. The ball was still going in, before Hutton cleared it off the line. Luckily for Arsenal, Walcott had continued his run, and the ball bounced off his shoulder into the goal. The celebration was over the top, but the goal was significant; Arsenal had come back by putting on more pressure and playing at a higher, and more direct tempo, while still passing the ball.
5 minutes later, the comeback was complete. Laurent Koscielny, as he has so often this season, intercepted on the half way line and then continued on a mazy run into the penalty area before being taken out by Darren Bent. Another penalty (Is that even legal?), and again, Robin van Persie sent Shay Given the wrong way.
Mikel Arteta came on for Tomas Rosicky to settle the midfield down, which worked to a point; the problems that had plagued Arsenal in the first half came back when they didn't press Aston Villa, giving them time to exploit our wide areas. Francis Coquelin didn't do well against Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was a threat before coming off injured. Bacary Sagna and Thierry Henry came on for Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to shore the game up, and Arsenal were able to see the game out, with Villa having a half chance that skipped through to Fabianski.
Victory, but still problems for Arsenal. The concession of the goals was typical, and, although may have been prevented by playing Szczesny, the 2 v 1 corner has caught Arsenal out before (also; why don't we try that?). They were too slow and too passive in the first half, resulting in lots of corners but no real threatening moments. Aaron Ramsey played much better in the second half, as did Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was direct and skillful, but Arsenal are still missing incisiveness from the midfield. Ramsey also needs a rest. Having Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta back, along with a victory, though, is enough to saviour until next Wednesday's vital game against Bolton. Hopefully, this comeback will spur Arsenal on.