HAVE IT: Arsenal's Per Mertesacker slides in on Gabriel Agbonlahor
HAVING SEEN off your bitter north London rivals so emphatically and then progressing to the last sixteen of the Champions League for the thirteenth consecutive time, Arsenal went into their clash against struggling Aston Villa with expectations high for more that just a point.
If that weren't disappointment enough, the Gunners fired blanks at Villa Park in this 0-0 bore draw, but credit must go to a dogged Villa, who having been thrashed at Manchester City last weekend, were worthy of a point which lifts them out of the relegation places. A possible six pointer against Reading now looms mid-week for Villa, a fixture that having kept the Gunners at bay here, Paul Lambert's side will look to push on from.
In what were nothing short of atrocious conditions, the spectre of free flowing football was never going to materialise, and Arsene Wenger recognised as such with his team selection.
Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Gervinho were among the substitutes, Wenger knowing all too well he would not risk Wilshere on such a heavy surface.
It was left to Aaron Ramsey to pull the midfield strings, alongside Santi Cazorla. Villa however were determined not to let the Gunners fire, and despite their possession, the home side managed to nullify the majority of the Arsenal threat.
The diminutive Barry Bannan announced Villa's attacking intention, letting fly from 25 yards, a shot that Wojciech Szczesny had covered after sixteen minutes. Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke had already gone close. It would be twenty minutes before Arsenal retaliated, Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain working an opening, but hitting wide of Brad Guzan's upright.
Ramsey was enjoying perhaps his best game of the season, and the Welshman should have opened the scoring on the half hour mark, but Guzan did well to save the deflected shot.
The luck was with Villa, and they were awarded a free-kick when Szczesny was penalised for sliding and handling out of his area. Replays showed the Pole had released just the ball in time.
Arsenal tried to build from the back, and despite being handed the captain's armband, Mikel Arteta will be concerned at his lack of usual influence in a game that was tailor made for him.
Per Mertersacker was seeing a lot of the ball from defence, and his defending had to be spot on as Gabriel Agbonlahor hared in, the German timing his tackle to perfection to loud crowd appeals for a penalty.
Ashley Westwood was tirelessly tenacious as Arsenal, despite enjoying overwhelming possession, couldn't break through. Two minutes before the break, Laurent Koscielny didn't appreciate the time he had in the area, and skied a shot after some good work from Olivier Giroud,
The intensity largely remained after the restart, and after a smart one two involving Giroud and Cazorla, the latter hit his shot true, but just wide of the target. Ramsey then fired wide from Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross, with Szczesny denying denying Agbonlahor and then substitute Brett Holman's fierce drive with a fingertip save that clipped his bar after 78 minutes.
Wenger brought on Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin. They added forward threat, but there was always going to be a danger had these two needed to track back to defend.
Benteke continued to show his muscle alone up front, and when he got the slip of Koscielny, Mertersacker was alert to the danger. The game however was to fizzle out in a damp squib.