Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa: A St. Totteringham's Unlike Any Other

Have you stopped laughing yet? What a season. What a ridiculous, insane, astonishing, bonkers end to what had been an utterly vomitous season to date.

A month ago, this wasn't possible. St. Totteringham had lost his way, the streak ended at 20 glorious years of our nearest and dearest residing firmly in whatever North London postal code our shadow is in. A month ago, the chicken-on-a-beach ball brigade were The Greatest Young Team in the History of Association Football, sure to sweep aside all before them, their component parts sure to lead England to glory at Euro 2016.

Do me a favor.

John, the man who does the excellent Preview by Numbers feature here at this very shebeen, reminded me at the pub of something I said to him a few years back: "They are, until proven otherwise, Tottenham Hotspur." What I meant by that was, of course, all the baggage that goes along with it. Ask the Washington Capitals or the Chicago Cubs - some sporting enterprises are just cursed. Many are doomed to understudy a bigger and better club for eternity.

As the song goes, "You're Spurs, and you know you are."

Our run-in was littered with the likes of Norwich and this here Aston Villa side, but theirs wasn't exactly the Champions League knockout stages, either. Champions don't drop points at the sharp end of the season against the likes of West Bromwich Albion, the worst Chelsea team of the last 10 years (minimum), and an already-relegated Newcastle United. You could almost believe it if it were, say, the two Manchester clubs and us.

History will probably forget what a close-run thing this was. Spurs had Spursed it up in the beginning, shipping two quick goals before I even got to the pub (I was astonishingly late, even by my standards). I missed Olivier Giroud's first goal, but our match hung finely poised at 1-0 us for ages and ages. At one point, they had gotten it back to 2-1, while we were pulling our usual trick of pointless possession and blown half-chances.Once Aleksander Mitrovic got sent off for a truly horrific leg-breaker of a tackle for Newcastle, I thought the jig was up. We'll concede some jammy goal off a set piece, Harry Bloody Kane will score a hat-trick to lead them to victory, and I'd have to cancel my internet subscription to ensure I stayed off of social media forever.

And then.

And then, somewhere, St. Totteringham awoke with a start, kicked off his Liam Brady comforter, put on his lucky Rocky Rocastle socks, got himself an Uber, and turned up just in the nick of time.Up in the northeast, one of their guys somehow conned Anthony Taylor into giving them a penalty for what was honestly one of the most glaringly obvious dives I've seen in some time. Their guy sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way, and that was it. Ballgame up there.

There was still the small matter of our game, though. Giroud had been the focus of the crowd's ire all day, which is, pardon my French, amazingly fucking stupid. I get that we should have bought another striking option in the off-season, but to direct that ire at a player is counter-productive and moronic. As it turns out, the guy's actually pretty OK at this game, and within a few minutes banged in two more to complete his hat trick. 24 goals this season - 16 in the league. Not too many are going to beat those figures, so how about we dial that nonsense down next season, awreet?

At that point, it was basically over on our end. Villa, already relegated sometime back in the Margaret Thatcher administration, gave up the ghost entirely. It'll be a weird league without them (and Newcastle, and Leeds, and Sheffield Wednesday, and Coventry....the 20-year old me would be gobsmacked at it all), but if ever a club needed to die to be reborn, it's them. Anyway, I ambled over to the other room to watch the rest of the other game unfold. What I expected was to chew my fingernails in the hope that the Magpies would hold on.

What I got was the Spursiest thing that ever did Spurs. Their big plan was to, I dunno, play 10 center forwards and hope for the best. Newcastle sat back, soaked up the pressure, and then picked them off on the counter brilliantly. Say what you want about Rafa Benitez, but the guy kinda sorta knows what he's doing. The 4-1 goal happened, and most of the rest of the Pool End joined me to celebrate. That's when we knew it was over, but the 5-1 goal was the cherry on top. I think the Pool Enders sensed it was coming, as I had barely shouted in celebration before 20 people were right there with me.

Think about that. They needed a draw against an already-relegated team, had them down to 10 men when it was still 2-1, and managed to lose 5-1. I don't think there's another team in the country that could pull that off. It's a way.

So, with all the bile at the manager, all the vitriol at the players, all the horrendous losses and frustrating draws, all the angst, all the soul-searching, all the what-ifs....with one of our worst seasons in living memory (if not in total points, then ABSOLUTELY in wasted potential), we still finished higher than them. We still finished in second place. The mind...she boggles.

We STILL weren't done, though. Mikel Arteta, our perfectly-coiffured captain of distinction and aplomb, came on as a late sub. The Dubious Goals panel will probably take it away, but his late strike pinged off the crossbar, onto the back of the prone Mark Bunn, and trickled over the line. Whatever the record books say in the end, this classy and devoted servant of Arsenal Football Club got to have one last moment in the sun. Oh, sorry, the room got dusty for a moment there. Think I have something in my eye.

It's ridiculously churlish to ask for anything else in the wake of all of that, but it is a little bit sad that Tomas Rosicky couldn't make the bench, and in turn one last sub appearance. Injuries sadly prevented him from reaching his full potential for us, but you go ahead and try and find someone more devoted to this club, who gave an iota more effort every time he stepped out on the pitch. When rats like Judas van Persie and Samir Nasri left us, he stayed. When sloths like Denilson ambled around the pitch in a Quaalude haze, he ran his balls off...every minute, every match. He won tackles, picked out perfect passes, scored some absolute peaches. Maybe this is overstating it and you can disagree with me if you like, but for my money Tomas Rosicky is a fucking legend and I'm sad to see him go.

Oh, and while we're being sentimental, the clean sheet up and won Petr Cech the Golden Glove award for the season. There's been some astonishing shit chatted about him lately by the know-nothing army, but he's had a brilliant season - often behind a shambles of a defense - so the honor is truly deserved. Well done, good sir.

Two other fun things about that day:

1. The nearest and dearest finished with 70 points - or, two fewer than what got Andre Villas-Boas fired.

2. In the end, they: Failed to beat us in any of our matches, failed to get as far in any cup competition as us, and finished below us.......................again.

That said, this has all been great fun, but I hope that Arsene is aware of the job he has on this offseason. Danny Welbeck is out for 9 months. Mathieu Flamini is joining Arteta and Rosicky into the sunset. We just about got by with Gabriel, but come on. Per Mertesacker shouldn't be anything more than 4th choice at this point.

Even moreso, I keep saying it, but the Premiership is going to be one hell of a battle next season. Leicester will retool and be ready to defend their crown. The nearest and dearest aren't going away, as much as we'd wish this would mentally break them forever (mark my words, sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win - write them off at your own peril). Jurgen Klopp will have a summer transfer window to improve a side that may be UEFA Cup champions by then. Pep Guardiola will have Manchester City's zillions behind him. Jose Mourinho might rock up at Manchester United (though I do think there's a chance that he's been found out forever, which would be lovely). Southampton are quietly building themselves into a hell of a side. West Ham are on the verge of something big, and are moving to that big new stadium, Everton have some pieces, if they get the managerial replacement right. Watford have tons more money than you might think, and some interesting players themselves. Chelsea still have Roman's rubles, though Antonio Conte may need more than a season to put out that dumpster fire. Sunderland will be much harder to beat next season, and our nemesis Tony Pulis is still at West Brom. Stoke may have hit a wall, but you figure with one or two key additions, they could compete with the rest as well.

That's the thing. Leicester didn't win because the league was shit this season - they won because they did enough on enough nights to win a league that is top-to-bottom stronger than ever.

As fun as this was, if we rest on our laurels, next season is going to be one thunderbastard of a wake-up call. Over to you, Arsene.

Man of the Match: Olivier Giroud...but really, all of Newcastle United.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Aston Villa

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 15
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: John Brooks and Andrew Halliday
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Aston Villa 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 5 - 0 Aston Villa
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 81 Arsenal wins, 66 Aston Villa wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-W-D-W-D
  • Aston Villa's League Form: L-L-L-L-L-D
Once more unto the breach.

Arsenal close out a bizarre and distressing 2015/16 Premier League season with a home game against an Aston Villa side who were relegated approximately 57 years ago, or so it feels. Manchester United's loss to West Ham on Tuesday means that Arsenal cannot finish worse than fourth (it's a trophy!) while Sunderland's win over Everton on Wednesday means that St. Totteringham's Day is more unlikely than it could have been if Newcastle had something to play for.

Here is the breakdown:

Arsenal will finish second with a win and a Spurs loss. If Spurs draw, Arsenal can finish second if they beat Aston Villa by 13 (it could happen?)

Arsenal will finish third with a draw or a win that isn't by 13 while Spurs get at least a point. They'll also finish third if Manchester City draw or lose to Swansea, regardless of their own result.

Arsenal will finish fourth if they lose and Manchester City win.

I don't have the exact percentages at this time of these potential outcomes. Before the midweek fixtures, it was 88% for third, 9% for second, and 3% for fourth, but I have to figure the odds of finishing second have dropped now that Newcastle have been officially relegated.

All of that said, if Arsenal fail to beat an Aston Villa side that reached the beach ages ago, they really don't deserve to go right into the Champions League group stage, do they? 

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Welbeck (knee,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Mertesacker (hamstring)
Doubts: Ozil (hip)

It's devastating news again for Danny Welbeck, as the knee injury he suffered against Manchester City is much worse than it previously looked. He's needed surgery again and is expected to miss another nine months. It's terrible news for a man whose impact has been one of the few bright spots for Arsenal in the 2016 calendar year. If there's any good news, it's that it's not the same knee he injured last season, so there's no correlation between this injury and his last one.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is going to miss the Euros too after he picked up a new injury in training a few weeks back. We know Per Mertesacker's season has been over since he picked up a hamstring injury against Norwich. Mesut Ozil missed last week's trip to the Etihad with a hip injury, which means he can only return as far as the "doubts" column this time around.

A few underused players got a run-out for the reserves earlier this week, which seemed kind of unfair since it was a promotion qualifier. Arsenal used the likes of Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Joel Campbell, and Calum Chambers to beat Aston Villa, 3-1.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Elneny, Ramsey, Iwobi, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud.

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Amavi (knee,) Agbonlahor (match fitness,) Okore (team suspension)
Doubts: Veretout (hip,) Gestede (groin,) Richardson (calf,) Kozak (match fitness)

The only certain injury absence for Aston Villa is Jordan Amavi, whose season has long been over after an ACL injury. Jores Okore last month refused to play for caretaker manager Eric Black and is thus suspended by the team. Meanwhile, Gabriel Agbonlahor finds himself similarly banished to the reserves.

Libor Kozak, whose season has been marred by injuries, underwent minor surgery again last month and is a doubt. There are also doubts over Rudy Gestede (groin,) Kieran Richardson (calf,) and Jordan Veretout (hip.)

Aly Cissokho returns from suspension after he was sent off against Watford for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, as Villa blew a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2.

Predicted XI: Bunn, Bacuna, Lescott, Clark, Hutton, Cissokho, Gueye, Westwood, Sanchez, Gestede, Ayew.

Current Form

Arsenal's unbeaten run in the Premier League was extended to nine games with their 2-2 draw at Manchester City last weekend. You'd think a team on a nine game unbeaten run would be higher in the table, but five of those nine were draws. That's 10 dropped points in the past two months. Still, it's Arsenal's longest unbeaten sequence in the league since a 10-match unbeaten run (which included a much better nine wins) last spring.

Arsenal currently sit on 68 points in the league table, their fewest since 2011 when they also finished with 68. They can surpass 2012's total of 70 with a win on Sunday.

On February 6, Aston Villa beat Norwich 2-0. At that point, they were eight points back of safety with 13 games to play. The Villans then proceeded to lose 11 straight: 6-0 to Liverpool, 2-1 to Stoke, 3-1 to Everton, 4-0 to City, 2-0 to Spurs, 1-0 to Swansea, 4-0 to Chelsea, 2-1 to Bournemouth, 1-0 to United, 4-2 to Southampton, and 3-2 to Watford. They were officially relegated with the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford on April 16.

Last week, the losing streak finally came to an end in dour fashion, as they played a 0-0 draw with Newcastle, which has now turned out to have been Newcastle's first foot in their own grave. So, Villa are now winless in 12, which is still only their second-longest winless run of the year after previously going 19 without a win.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture comfortably back in December 2-0 at Villa Park. Olivier Giroud slotted home a penalty on eight minutes and Aaron Ramsey doubled the lead half an hour later. It would seem the from the recap that absolutely nothing else happened in that match, which is good, I suppose. There weren't even any bookings.

Arsenal won all three meetings against Aston Villa last season, winning 3-0 at Villa Park, 5-0 at the Emirates, and 4-0 in the FA Cup Final. At the Emirates, in this corresponding fixture last year, Aston Villa had more than half of the possession, but generated only two shots on target. Arsenal led on eight minutes through Olivier Giroud but did not open the floodgates until near the hour mark. Mesut Ozil doubled Arsenal's lead in the 56th minute, Theo Walcott made it three in the 63rd, Santi Cazorla made it four from the penalty spot in the 75th, and Hector Bellerin opened his account to make it 5-0 in injury time.

The Villans have just three wins in their last 36 matches against Arsenal across all competitions, but there is some cause for Arsenal concern: all three of those wins have come at the Emirates. Aston Villa's last goal against Arsenal came on January 13, 2014, when Christian Benteke pulled a goal back in the 76th minute in what went on to be a 2-1 Arsenal win.

The Referee

The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg. Clattenburg has a big summer ahead of him: not only will he be going to the Euros tournament in June, but he'll also be working next weekend's FA Cup Final as well as the Champions League Final the week after.

Arsenal do not have a great record with Clattenburg this season; they lost 2-1 at the Hawthorns in November with Clattenburg in the middle (recall that he did give Arsenal a late penalty lifeline, which Santi Cazorla fired over the bar) and 1-0 to Chelsea in January, when Per Mertesacker was correctly sent off on 18 minutes. Arsenal did get a win with Clattenburg as the referee against Everton on March 19, 2-0. Over time, however, Arsenal's record with him is quite decent.

Aston Villa have seen Clattenburg twice this season and, unbelievably, they won both. Aston Villa have won all of three games this season and yet they are 2-0 with Clattenburg. Those wins came against Bournemouth on August 8 and Crystal Palace on January 12, by the way. They suffered their aforementioned 19-match winless run in between.

Around the League
  • Sunday: Chelsea v. Leicester City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday: Everton v. Norwich City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday: Manchester United v. Bournemouth; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday: Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday: Southampton v. Crystal Palace; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday: Stoke City v. West Ham United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sunday: Swansea City v. Manchester City; Liberty Park, Swansea
  • Sunday: Watford v. Sunderland; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Sunday: West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a one-act opera written by Hector Berlioz. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to critique the libretto.