Catching up...

Hopefully, I'll be forgiven for the combination of the Thanksgiving holiday and a family emergency preventing me from getting a match report up for the Aston Villa game. I did catch that one though, unlike the mid-week fixture against Wigan. I just wanted to take a moment to quickly get us caught up here at TMG leading up into the accompanying fixture to our Holiday Social at the Blind Pig (Fulham, to be precise).

Away to Villa is always a tough fixture, but this one had the added pall of a hideous losing streak in our run-up to it. We don't need to talk about THAT derby again, and frankly we shouldn't spend too many words talking about the capitulation in Portugal, either. The beauty of football though is that there's always another game to look forward to - a fact augmented by the parity creeping into the Premier League these days. Whereas we'd already be far in Chelski or United's rear-view mirror by now, the former's own losing streak and the latter's run of draws sees us still somehow in the title race.

The performance was always going to be up to scrutiny after that hellish previous week, so it was heartening to see Arsenal nearly take the lead in the opening minute. Even better, it was Andrei Arshavin who looked to be shaking himself out of his recent torpor to create the chance. The little Russian pounced on a terrible backpass and threaded a beautiful through-ball to Marouane Chamakh. The Moroccan looked to have a great chance, but Brad Friedel was exceptionally quick off his line and brave in his block at Chamakh's feet. A great bit of goalkeeping that, and it prevented us from a shock early lead.

It didn't stop there, either. Villa were at sixes and sevens for the entire opening exchanges, and Arsenal to their credit looked to carve out openings. However, they couldn't get any of their several shots on the frame of goal, allowing the home side to creep back into the match as the minutes ticked on. Still, Chamakh had the next best chance of the match at the 14' mark, but his scuffed shot was never going to trouble the big American in goal for Villa.

After an Arshavin penalty shout was turned down a few minutes later (for the record, I thought Andrei made a meal of it and that it was never a spot-kick), Villa very nearly repeated the recent script - Arsenal gets all the early possession, the other team takes the lead. Stewart Downing's whipped-in cross found Ashley Young all alone on the back post. However, with no markers within four postal codes of him, he contrived to balloon his header far over the crossbar. It was an absolute sitter, he knew it, and luckily it didn't dent the fragile confidence of the men in yellow.

Unlike the recent script, Arsenal took back control of the game, as Villa's defending became increasingly desperate (highlighted by Richard Dunne nearly heading into his own net). Finally, the breakthrough came a few minutes before the interval from that man Arshavin. Two Villa defenders collided, conceding possession to Arsenal. Arshavin took it the whole way, beat Dunne one-on-one and fired low and hard past Friedel. Into the bottom corner it went, giving Arsenal a vital goal in a vital game.

It could so easily have been 2-0 just a minute later, as Arshavin again found Chamakh with a brilliant pass, only for the Moroccan to do the hard work of rounding Friedel before tamely firing wide of the post. It wasn't as shocking a miss as Young's before, but it certainly didn't help the cause. What did help the cause was Samir Nasri continuing to twist the knife into the home side's backline with a stunning finish to get us to that 2-0 mark heading into the interval. Would you believe it was off a set piece, too? The Frenchman stunningly volleyed off a corner to give us the dreaded two-goal lead.

Of course we were going to blow it, right? It's a damning indictment of this team (and a further reminder that I do not back off ONE IOTA from what I said in my previous post, despite the recent good results) that a 2-0 lead has us shitting ourselves, whereas with previous Arsenal squads it meant the fun was just beginning.

Anyway, a few minutes after the restart, a subdued Arsenal indeed found themselves pegged back a goal. You can sort of blame Sebastien Squillaci for a weak clearing header, but Gael Clichy's damn-near dereliction of defensive duty gave Ciaran Clark all the time and space he needed to lash an unstoppable shot past Lukasz Fabianski into the top corner of the net. The worst thing about it was that he saw the danger, looked RIGHT AT Clark, and inexplicably ran away to cover someone off to his left. Shocking, unforgiveable, a play that no one would make at any other big club and expect to start the next match. Even if Clark gets it out to the unmarked man on the left, that's no excuse for giving up an uncontested shot from a central area. Had the ball gone out to the left, Clichy could then track back to that man and allow Squillaci to press up from where he had made the poor clearing header.

The truth of the matter is that, right now, Clichy is a liability and should be nowhere near the first team. Kieran Gibbs should play every single game right now unless his leg is dangling off his torso by the thinnest of ligaments. Even then, he's still probably a better option. Squillaci gave him a right old talking-to after that goal, as well he should have. If I were Fabianski, I'd fucking shank him in the dressing room afterwards for that shit. Disgraceful.

That said, John Carew was CLEARLY blocking Fabianski's view, and it should absolutely have been called back for offside. How that is not interfering with play, I'll never know...but, then again, the offside rule is so labyrinthine and impossible to apply, I can't in good conscience rail at the lino for not calling that back.

The good news though is that the Gunners came back with almost an instant reply to make it 3-1. Another through-ball from outside the area (this time from the otherwise-anonymous Tomas Rosicky) found Chamakh again, and this time he was too quick and got a toe to it before Friedel could get out. It nestled snugly into the bottom corner, and the two-goal lead was restored.

A few more half-chances were created with no end product for the Gunners, but you always felt that the home side would get themselves back into it yet. Indeed they did, the first warning shot across the bow coming when Laurent Koscielny had to make a brilliant intervention to prevent Young from creating a chance. Clark then fired wide from long range before nabbing his second goal moments later to again halve the deficit. Luke Young's flick-on from a corner came to Clark, who somehow out-jumped his marker to send a looping header over Fabianski.

Wenger made two late substitutions afterwards that were highly frustrating at the time, but in retrospect made sense. Gibbs and Denilson came on to shore up the defense (well, Gibbs anyway...and why he came on for an attacker and not the horrid Clichy, I'll never know) and Villa didn't threaten overmuch from that point (though we were shitting ourselves every time they had the ball). Jack Wilshere added gloss to the scoreline with a neat diving header in injury time, allowing us all to breathe deeply.

Quick ratings for the Villa match: Fabianski 6, Clichy 4, Squillaci 5. Koscielny 7, Sagna 6, Rosicky 6 (Djourou 90 - N/A), Nasri 8 (Gibbs 85 - N/A), Song 5, Wilshere 7, Arshavin 9 (MOTM) (Denilson 85 - N/A), Chamakh 8

With that done, on to the Wigan match. I didn't see it, but the lads brushed aside Wigan Athletic 2-0 to advance to the semifinals of the League Cup. The first was an own-goal, the second a tap-in by Nicklas Bendtner on the far post. All good things, but apparently the enigmatic Carlos Vela could have had a hatful with the chances he was presented. He's never made much of an impact in the Premier League...but when he's not even scoring in this competition anymore? It may be time to do one, amigo.

The other results are where the real surprises came in - West Ham absolutely tonked Manchester United's reserves 4-0 to send them crashing out, while Ipswich Town eased past West Bromwich Albion 1-0 to join them in the hat. Rounding out the shockers was Birmingham City beating Villa 2-1 in a contentious derby - in a round that included the two finalists of last year's League Cup, the Blues are now the biggest hurdle left towards winning it.

Speaking of which, I posted this on the Arseblog forums yesterday:

It's depressing that it's come to this, but I badly BADLY want this cup. Who would have thought we'd be slumming it like this?

And, this is what I posted today:

Seriously...Ipswich, West Ham or Birmingham. Or, to rephrase, the biggest obstacle left is BIRMINGHAM FUCKING CITY.

If this team doesn't win the trophy now, forget dismantling...they want shooting.

That about sums up where I am at this point. It's sad to me that the same thing we made fun of our nearest and dearest neighbors for a few years back is exactly where we find ourselves today. We used to treat this competition with the disdain it deserves - now we're playing our first team and killing ourselves trying to win it. And, I don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I fucking want this one BAD. I suppose that when one has been lost at sea for a few years, you're not too particular if your first meal back on land isn't champagne and filet mignon.

As it turns out, we were drawn with Ipswich Town in the semifinal. Look, if we can't beat a fucking First Division team home and away at this stage of the competition, this team should (as mentioned above) be shot. I don't mean that in the figurative sense...I mean that in the sense of a Chinese execution where they invoice your family for the bullet afterwards.

After that, it should be a final against either West Ham (rooted to the bottom of the Premiership) or Birmingham City (a solid defensive outfit that is a far easier proposition away from St. Andrew's). It may be a second-rate tin pot, but this squad absolutely MUST MUST MUST win this trophy. It's about goddamned time that this club accomplished something when they got to the sharp end of a competition. It's about time that this club stopped the talk about winning something, and went out and did it. It's about time that this club's balls drop, to be all Rex Ryan about it.

I want to see killer instinct - I want to see these guys tear into Ipswich from the off and put them in their second-tier place. I want these guys to go to Wembley, show no fear, and rip the heads off of whichever mediocre band of triers they find themselves up against in the final. There's no excuse not to, and frankly failure to win this trophy at this point would just prove my point from last time even more.

Prove me wrong, Arsene. Prove me wrong, Arsenal. Win this fucking thing.

See you for the Fulham match report.