The starting line up was the “alternative” version as discussed yesterday which saw Diaby start on the left and Walcott up front. Here’s the line up from yesterday: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy, Hleb, Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby, Adebayor, Walcott.
We started brightly and showed a resolve to forget the events of last saturday. Walcott starting up front, looked dangerous and forced a save from Carson early on. The play was quick and precise, but Villa were always a threat. Agbonlahor and Young, on either wing, with freedom to roam, caused problems and it was the former who started to cause us problems.
It’s these types of games, against pacey forwards that Senderos is most suspect and he was continually caught out by the Villa front line. He and Gallas seemed nervous and their partnership didn’t look that great when under pressure. It was Agbonlahor who eventually “scored” when he broke free once more from our back line and with pace crossed through the middle. Senderos unfortunately was in the way, and his slide pushed the goal into his own net. 1-0 to Villa.
This seemed to bring confidence to the away team and it was a while before we got back into the groove. But when we did, we really did and started to build chances galore – not enough in the final third though, too many missed passes but to be honest, Villa’s defence was outstanding – as we knew they could be.
The game seemed to change with the introduction of Bendtner, to replace Diaby which saw Walcott go out on the right. It was a tactical game, with O’Neill playing the tactics to a tee. As the game reached the final third, we started to dominate and went forward with intent. We started to realise that we could actually lose this game. Senderos and Flamini were replaced with Denilson and Gilberto and we went with a kind of 2-5-3 formation. Also known as Gung-ho.
We literally threw the kitchen sink at Villa, with Cesc, Walcott & Ade testing the keeper. In actual fact, looking across the whole game, Walcott had a few chances, Cesc one golden opportunity in the first half, Hleb had chances, Flamini too and it was not for a matter of trying that we failed. We were about 1% off our game and Villa were 10% more on theirs (if that makes any sense), but our determination finally paid off.
Hleb and Cesc traded passes, rolled the ball back to Clichy who crossed to the far post. Ade knocked the ball down and Bendtner finished cooly and on the final minute of stoppage time, it was 1 – 1.
The Positives (Because I’m an optimist)
Today’s game has many positives. Although it was a draw, we played well, passed well in patches and looked dangerous. We were on the verge of losing this game, but remained resilient and eventually found the equaliser. Clichy and Sagna covered ground, looked good defending and good going forward. Walcott played well, struck the ball well, a few crosses aside and if he continues this improvement, he will surely gain more confidence. Ade played the “linking” role and held the ball up well. He didn’t manage to have that many chances, but his overall play was confident. And Bendtner scored yet another vital goal, which could prove very fruitful come the end of the season.
1 point gained, and we’re still top of the table.
The Negatives (Because some of you aren’t)
The Senderos / Gallas partnership seems to be inconsistent – they’ve had some good games together – but yesterdays wasn’t one of them. Both had goodish games, but both looked suspect in some areas. Will Kolo return for the clash against Milan? Or will Senderos have one of his better games next time? We looked tired and that’s not a good sign at this part of the season. We don’t look like we have the key, or va-va-voom to play well for 90 minutes. We need to find this again.
We can’t dwell on this result with the “big game” at the San Siro. Let’s look at this as a point gained and know that we’ve got Denilson, Diaby and Walcott back in the squad with Van Persie soon to return…
“We had a hangover from last week definitely – you could see that in the first-half. We needed to dig deep to find the pace of the game. In the second-half we were a little bit better but lacked that spark. The reason we got a point today was the desire and the refusal to lose.”“Everyone goes through a bad spell, but every point gained is of vital importance. They were difficult opponents. They defended very well and were sharp on the break. We had to dig deep to get to the pace of the game and it was the desire and refusal to lose which got us a point.”With Man U and Chelsea winning, the gap is just one point. But we’re the ones in front and with 10 games to go, I’d rather be in front than anywhere else!
There was more to the game than I can report now… analysis on Villa’s stupid Eduardo chants, another more subjecive review of the game and a preview of the Milan game tomorrow.
Til then, happy Sunday!]]>