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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Premiership, Aston Villa 0-1 Arsenal

Diaby marks Wenger milestone with victory
Arsene Wenger celebrated his 400th Premiership game in charge of Arsenal with a 1-0 victory at Villa Park on Wednesday night as his team maintained their unbeaten league start to 2007. Also Arsenal overtook Liverpool and moved up into third place in the Premiership!

Abou Diaby's first half goal - after only nine minutes - Diaby is another of the member of the exciting crop of young players Wenger believes can emerge stronger next season and provide a Premiership title threat to Chelsea and Manchester United.

Diaby's second goal for the club - his first had come against Villa in a 5-0 win at Highbury 11 months ago - arrived during a period when they threatened to overrun their hosts. Jérèmie Alaidière's poor finishing and a spirited recovery from Villa after the interval ensured Wenger's side would endure a more demanding evening then they might have envisaged, however, and they needed to show resilience to secure the points that lift them to third.

It took only 10 minutes for Villa to discover that Arsenal's second-string cannot be underestimated. Phil Bardsley was exposed by Diaby's pace on the left, the Frenchman ghosting past the full-back before releasing Julio Baptista. The Brazilian's drive from 25 yards would merely have provided some early action for the ball boy but Diaby's decision to continue his run brought fortuitous reward when he deflected the shot past Thomas Sorensen.

There was no intent on Diaby's part although he raised his arm to celebrate all the same. Arsenal should soon have been rejoicing again. Aliadière raced on to Freddie Ljungberg's measured pass before out-pacing Olof Mellberg only to see his left-foot shot turned around a post by Sorensen. It was a chance that Thierry Henry would surely have taken and the same could be said for two more Aliadière failed to convert before the interval.

The first arrived when Denilson's lofted ball found Aliadière in space on the edge of the area and again he left Mellberg trailing but with Sorensen braced for a shot, the Frenchman trod on the ball. That misfortune was perhaps playing on his mind two minutes before the interval, when Ljungberg's cross picked out the striker, unmarked, at the far post. He duly followed the text book to the letter, heading the ball down but with such power it bounced in front of Sorensen and over the bar.

Wenger looked on with bewilderment. Profligacy is a recurrent theme with Arsenal this season and there was enough of a threat from Villa to suggest that any wastefulness might be punished. John Carew, full of powerful running, had come close to winning a penalty when he was bundled to the ground by Johan Djourou on the edge of the area, though it was his partner in attack, Ashley Young, who had the best opportunity to peg Arsenal back.

Wilfred Bouma, arguably Villa's most improved player this season, bisected the Arsenal right with a deft pass on the edge of the area. Gareth Barry, overlapping with purpose, showed composure and awareness to deliver a perfectly weighted pass into the path of the on-rushing Young but the forward's shot, from no more than 12 yards, was abjectly tame and too near to Jens Lehmann, allowing the Arsenal goalkeeper to comfortably smother.

Lehmann would be in for a far-busier second half as Villa emerged with belief and much greater urgency. Gary Cahill's punt forward encouraged the ever-willing Carew to chase, Lehmann sprinting from his line to hurriedly clear. Within seconds they were driving forward again, Barry's run down the left taking him past Gilberto Silva to the byline only for his whipped cross to elude Gabriel Agbonlahor and run harmlessly across the six-yard box.

Having passed the ball with such control, Arsenal were appearing more and more vulnerable when defending, Lehmann evincing the unease when he failed to claim Young's deep corner. The loose ball hit Diaby and would have crossed the line but for Ljungberg's last-ditch clearance. Back came Villa again, Cahill astutely chesting the ball sideways for Carew to propel a 20-yard volley that flashed inches past the right-hand upright.

Wenger responded by replacing Diaby and the disappointing Baptista with Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky and they appeared to galvanise Arsenal, with Villa's only notable effort on goal in the last quarter coming when Carew's low shot was saved by Lehmann.

Aston Villa: Sorensen, Bardsley, Mellberg, Cahill, Bouma, Petrov, McCann (Berger 74), Barry, Agbonlahor, Carew, Young.
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Davis, Ridgewell, Moore.

Booked: Cahill.

Arsenal: Lehmann, Hoyte, Silva, Djourou, Gallas, Ljungberg, Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby (Rosicky 63), Julio Baptista (Flamini 65), Aliadiere (Senderos 90).
Subs Not Used: Poom, Walcott.

Booked: Djourou.

Goals: Diaby 10.

Premiership, Aston villa 0-1 Arsenal full match analysis, highlights and post match interviews: