Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal: Ugly But Vital

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy, but Arsenal went into Birmingham and gutted out a massive win to find themselves back on top of the table on a weekend where every major rival also took maximum points. In doing so, we also put right the ridiculous aberration that was Villa's 3-1 win at the Emirates to open the season.

Villa obviously set out their stall to defend in the early going, with three center-halves officially - though one could argue that they effectively went with a 10-0-0 formation. Even Christian Benteke was back in his own half putting in a shift, as the home side frustrated Arsenal in the early going. The men in yellow enjoyed the lion's share of possession, but were unable to break down a determined Villa side.

An unfortunate injury forced the Villains' manager Paul Lambert into a tactical reshuffle, though. Nathan Baker bravely charged down a ferocious shot off the foot of Serge Gnabry, and took the full force of it directly to the face. He had to be stretchered off after a long delay, and we can only hope that he's all right - if he only got a concussion, he will have gotten off lightly.

Lambert was forced into a 4-4-2 at that point, Leandro Bacuna the replacement. But, they were still fairly comfortable in defense, with Arsenal ineffectual at best in the final third. Every so often, Villa would attempt to counter, but their passing was dreadful and their target men were unable to hold up the play. The one time they threatened to break, Nacho Monreal smartly took the booking to break it up. I also recall Fabian Delph badly missing when left completely open at the top of the box.

Three minutes after Monreal took the yellow, Arsenal were two goals to the good. It was just as awesome in its ruthlessness as it was in its efficiency.

The Arsenal probed down the right wing, but Villa repelled the attack. So, the visitors calmly played it back to the defense, and then tried the left. Mesut Ozil - who once again was mostly iffy but provided that one moment of absolute quality - shredded the defense with a wonderful pass to the overlapping Monreal. The Spaniard cut it back, into the path of the onrushing Jack Wilshere. Young Jack had suffered a bit previous to this moment, giving the ball away on more than a few occasions. Here, however, he was absolute aces. He had the time and space to take a touch and then stroke a low shot past the diving Brad Guzan.

Villa were a bit stunned by the goal, having been in so little danger previously. Seconds later, the Gunners doubled their lead. Delph, the same man who could have turned this game on his head had he not missed so badly earlier, was guilty of an atrocious giveaway in midfield. Wilshere stole it from him and played a wonderful ball over the top to Olivier Giroud. The HFB beautifully controlled the ball with a high boot, and charged into the penalty area. The two defenders in attendance should have done a lot better on the play, but in fairness a weird and lucky deflection off of Giroud's knee fell perfectly onto his shooting foot. He made no mistake, going across the keeper and into the far corner.

Perhaps it was to be expected that Arsenal would go off the boil some after scoring two so quickly. What was more worrying was that we went off the boil for the rest of the match, and could so easily have dropped points against better opposition. First we started getting too cute in possession, attempting silly backheels and party pieces when we should have been going after a decisive third goal. As the game drifted into the second half, we withdrew more and more into a defensive shell as Villa got themselves back off the canvas.

Benteke became more of a factor as Villa rose into the ascendancy, and thankfully Laurent Koscielny was not called for a penalty kick when he may have had a handful of the big striker's shirt in the penalty area. Thankfully, Neil Swarbick had a pretty good game - far better than that idiot Anthony Taylor that we had in the season opener.

Monreal suffered an injury, meaning a return for Kieran Gibbs. He came in and did well, his blistering pace evidence on one run later in the half. Before that though, Arsenal gifted their opponents a goal that almost ended up costing us two vital points.

Santi Cazorla was the man at fault, the one blight on an otherwise-solid performance. His absolutely ridiculous giveaway on the sideline allowed Matthew Lowton to send in a hard, low cross. Per Mertesacker was a bit out of position, allowing Benteke a free header at the back post.

Villa's tails were up at this point and they in turn threw everything they had at us in the last ten minutes. Thankfully, they didn't quite have the quality to unduly trouble us too much. That, and as they have on several occasions already this season, the Gunners stiffened in defense and held when it truly mattered. Mertesacker made several key clearances to atone for his poor positioning on the goal. Tomas Rosicky, himself on as a sub, had to come off with an injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a welcome return in his place.

Despite all this, Villa probably should have got the equalizer that they'll feel they deserved. However, Benteke, when presented with a free header in the area, could only tamely under-hit it directly at Wojceich Szczesny. That was their chance. The final whistle blew a little bit later, sealing the win for the Arsenal.

Look, this isn't a match that any of us will want to remember five minutes from now. But, this is the kind of game that champions win. No matter what kind of talent you have on display, it won't always click the way it should, especially when faced with a team fighting for their lives like Aston Villa. At the end of the day though, we are still top of the league...and it is a damn good feeling.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 7 (Gibbs 7), Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 8, Sagna 7, Flamini 7, Wilshere 8, Ozil 7, Cazorla 7, Gnabry 7 (Rosicky N/A [Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A]), Giroud 7.

Man of the Match: Wilshere has a serious argument, but I have to go with the immense (no pun intended ) Big Fucking German, Per Mertesacker.