Van Persie silences boos to rekindle Arsenal's fire


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The Independent Online

By Glenn Moore

Arsène Wenger substituted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain again yesterday, a week after he was jeered for replacing him against Manchester United. This time the home fans cheered, and not just because it was Thierry Henry coming on rather than Andrei Arshavin. Arsenal fans would have cheered Wenger even if he had brought the Gunnersaurus mascot on to play in goal, so delirious with joy were they after this stunning comeback.

Booed off at half-time after conceding twice in 10 minutes, to Richard Dunne and Darren Bent, Arsenal rolled back the years after the break. Robin van Persie scored two penalties either side of a Theo Walcott goal in a whirlwind seven minutes. The change in mood at the Emirates was stunning.

With the trophy-less years stretching towards seven, Wenger sees the Cup as a road to redemption and, aside from a change of Pole in goal, he chose his strongest available side – with Van Persie's inclusion a revealing item. Arsenal need to qualify for the Champions League and the Dutchman's fragile body is their key asset.

With the "prize" of an away tie at Boro or Sunderland known, there was plenty of early intent, especially from Arsenal with Shay Given having to turn away a stinging free-kick from Thomas Vermaelen and Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain shooting wide.

But Alex McLeish's Villa are a counter-punching unit, and Arsenal are the perfect opponents. After a couple of promising breaks had come to naught, Villa forced a corner. Stiliyan Petrov and Robbie Keane worked it short and Dunne rose above Laurent Koscielny at the far post to head in Keane's cross.

Ten minutes later, into injury time, Villa broke again. Petrov fed Stephen Ireland who released Bent and, though Lucasz Fabianski saved his first shot, Bent slid home the rebound from a tight angle. Cue a chorus of boos.

Wenger's words at half-time had an electrifying effect. Arsenal came out and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. The Emirates came alive, thrilled to see the Arsenal of old back. There was an urgency to them, with men demanding the ball and then running at opponents with a confidence and purpose rarely seen this season.

Aaron Ramsey drew a penalty tackle from Dunne. Walcott dribbled past a string of defenders, shot and got lucky when Alan Hutton's clearance bounced in off his shoulder. Then Koscielny sped into the box, drew a striker's tackle from Bent ... and Van Persie converted the winner from the spot.