Not that I'm some kind of psychic but before the game I knew that if we got things right, we could tear Villa apart and run away with this biggie. Villa are no mugs but looking at the starting elevens there was an obvious class differential in the midfield area, Milner and Petrov are journeyman players, while Song, Diaby and Denilson are players with genuine talent. Having said that it was not plain sailing all the way, Villa had the odd moment of danger but overall it was a deserved and convincing 3-0 win for the side that played football the right way.
The first half was never going to be an open affair, in fact our best couple of chances came very early on when Vermaelen had a low cross shot scrambled clear and when Eduardo shot tamely straight at Friedel with the whole goal pretty much at his mercy. Villa looked dangerous for a fifteen minute spell, they put in a few decent crosses but we defended well, having Thomas Vermaelen attacking the ball made such a difference to the balance of play. As the half wore on our midfield purred, Diaby and Song were outstanding, the former offensively and the latter defensively, while Denilson was just all round efficient. There were mainly only half chances for the remainder of the half, although the pressure was building and Villa were completely overwhelmed in midfield. Not only were we winning the battles but we pressed well as a unit with all of the front three doing a lot of good defensive work.
The introduction of Cesc was obviously pivotal, but not quite as pivotal as some experts would have us believe. The game was turning our way, Villa could not hold onto the ball, Vermaelen and Gallas were not allowing them to hold up the loose bits from the long balls, the ball kept coming back at them and the pressure simply had to tell. Milner and Petrov were lightweight, fouling was their only real imprint on the game, they just couldn't get any time on the ball. A stinging low Arshavin effort was well saved by Fridel just before the opener from Cesc's freekick.
At 1-0 Villa didn't look like getting back into the game, they looked a tired spent force, Cesc killed the game by making it 2-0 with a neat finish as he burst onto Theo's excellent through ball. Unfortunately Cesc's hamstring felt the speed of the sprint and this meant he had to be replaced shortly after his second goal, the game was won by now though. The difference between the Arsenal of this season and that of last was the fact that we didn't look nervous with a 1-0 lead, we knew we could defend it out. Diaby's goal was the icing on the cake, he picked the ball up near the half way line, jinked past a couple of challenges and then curled a lovely finish into the bottom corner, 3-0 and game well and truly over.
This was no one man performance, it was a great team effort and the extra maturity that has developed over recent months was there for all to see. We played this game perfectly, we didn't throw too much at Villa early on, we defended solidly as individuals and as a team, Almunia seems to be playing with more belief which is a real plus. The midfield was where this game was won. Song was a tour de force, outstanding defensively, a rock in possession and even a creative spark at times. Diaby was brilliant, riding past players as if they were stuck in quick sand, dogged and determined in combat and excellent in his decision making. Milner looked like a schoolboy playing with adults, always a yard off the pace, while Petrov was so far off the pace I barely noticed his contribution at all. O'Neill seemed to think Villa were in the game but anyone who saw the vacuum in Villa's midfield would realise that these are the words of a man in denial over his own side's obvious weakness. Although we lacked a striker to lead the line, our forwards were lively and gave Villa's back four no time to rest. This is how we need to play until the end of the season if we are to remain in the mix, it will not be easy by any means but this is one hell of a good way to start.