FULL TIME: Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal.
And that, good ol' pals of mine, is stumps. The players shake hands warmly. Not much to mull over, really. But Villa, whose record against Arsenal is so poor, will take that, especially as the point they've gained moves them out of the relegation zone at the expense of Reading. The Gunners meanwhile stay put in sixth. Have I forgotten anything else? Let me see. Oh yes, it was raining.
90 min +3: Nada.
90 min +2: Nix.
90 min +1: Nowt.
90 min: Weimann is replaced by Albrighton. There will be a minimum of three added minutes.
89 min: Arsenal are finishing the stronger. A lot of neat passing in front of the Villa area, albeit with little end product.
87 min: Brilliance from Arshavin on the left-hand corner of the Villa box. He clips a majestic ball into the centre for Gervinho, who is sliding in with his foot out, ready to prod home from six yards. Clark dives across to execute a last-ditch saving tackle, deflecting the ball wide left of goal at the death. That's wonderful play all round. The resulting corner isn't up to much, but when are they ever?
86 min: A bit of room for Gibbs down the left. He pulls a ball back into the area for Giroud, but it flies just behind the striker as he slides in, and Villa clear the ball. That's pretty much the last act for Giroud, who is swapped for the substitute Coquelin.
84 min: A poor cross, or a poor shot, not sure which, comes looping into Guzan's hands, courtesy of Arshavin down the inside-right.
83 min: Benteke in plenty of space down the right, but he overruns the ball and has to settle for a corner. What a chance to get a shot away spurned! The corner comes to naught.
82 min: "Wahey!" whoops Declan Ferry. Told you.
81 min: A slight sense that both teams will be happy enough to leave with a point in their pouches. Nobody's really going for it. "At that testimonial game between Arsenal and Celtic (61 min) Tony thought that the away support were singing 'there's only one Tony Adams' and, touched by the gesture, went over to applaud the Celtic fans," recalls Ryan Dunne. "Unfortunately they were, on closer inspection, actually singing 'There's only one Gerry Adams'."
78 min: What an effort by Holman! He's sent belting down the inside-left channel by the excellent Westwood, and unleashes a rising drive that's going into the roof of the net, but is fingertipped onto the bar by Szczesny. That's a magnificent save by the Arsenal goalkeeper.
77 min: Declan Ferry, of 56 min fame, will be happy. He gets his wish: Arshavin comes on for Oxlade-Chamberlain.
76 min: Ramsey picks up a pass from Gervinho, 25 yards from goal, level with the left-hand post, and threads a low shot just wide of the target. Not bad, certainly not very far away.
75 min: Benteke, level with the right-hand post 10 yards out, gets his head to a long diagonal free kick, but there's no power on it.
73 min: Benteke bombs down the right. His looping cross into the centre is poor, but clanks off Mertesacker and runs loose, allowing Weimann to pick up possession with his back to goal, just inside the area. He can't turn and get a shot away, though, and then gives the ball away with a loose pass while looking for Holman.
72 min: Most of the fans appear to have given up on this game. Which is a bit strange: it's not exactly been a classic, but they'll have seen worse. It's not McLeishian.
70 min: As is traditional in the Premier League, Podolski is hooked. That's 13 from 13 now. He's yet to finish a full game! Gervinho comes on in his stead.
68 min: Holman and Benteke exchange a couple of one twos, the former taking charge as he embarks on a diagonal dribble, right to left, towards the Arsenal area. It's a fantastic run, but indecision wins. Holman fails to poke Benteke through when the striker is begging to be released into the area, then his resulting shot from a slight angle on the left is weak and easily gathered by Szczesny.
65 min: Holman has replaced El Ahmadi. "I would hate to jinx the rest of his Arsenal career, but I have to agree that Giroud looks to be one heck of a player," suggests Dave Konopka. "There's not too much more you could want from a lone striker, unless you were a greedy bastard. He's big, strong, has good technical ability, is getting some goals now, and his movement off the ball is spectacular. I suppose if you wanted to nitpick you could say he doesn't score as much as Messi or Ronaldo. Damn, now that I think about it, he really is quite piss poor, isn't he?"
63 min: Podolski wins a corner down the left. The ball's swung onto Giroud's napper, in the centre eight yards out. He flicks on for Ramsey, who miscues wildly over the bar. Another fine chance for the Welsh international. "Whoah up there, Scott," cowboys Matt Dony. "Don't go taking credit for everything. My superciliousness is all my own work. It took years to develop. It's the reason I read the Guardian, not a result of it."
61 min: Lichaj loops in a pacy ball from the right. Szczesny gathers, plucking the ball from the sky, but drops it near his goalline before gathering. You can hear both sets of fans take a sharp intake of breath as he clowns around. Meanwhile the half-time viewing has brought back some wonderful memories for Ian Burch: "I once won a sweepstake on the time it would take Tony Adams to raise his hand for offside from the kick-off at Paul Davis's testimonial match against Celtic. Tony obliged 7 minutes into the game, it took longer than usual as Arsenal were not taking it seriously, well they even let Tony Cascarino score twice that night."
59 min: Benteke twists and turns down the inside right, and sees his ambitious effort from distance balloon out for a corner on the right. Villa throw the ball into the area a couple of times, then win another down the left. Bannan's delivery here is brilliant, the ball teasing the keeper to come out before outswinging onto Benteke's head. His effort, looking for the top right, is deflected out for a third corner, Arsenal putting an end to the sequence by banging the leather off the ball, sending it sailing upfield.
56 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain zips past Clark down the right, and finds Ramsey level with the right-hand post, six yards out. It's a good chance, but Ramsey, sliding in, screws the effort wide right. Not a terrible miss, played out at high speed, but a chance passed up nonetheless. "That 'incidental' music from ITV's The Match is actually from the ice-training montage from Rocky IV," writes Declan Ferry, the nearest this report has to a Philip French. "It's when he took on the Russian, Ivan Drago. This game clearly needs Arshavin."
53 min: Agbonlahor purchases a free kick 30 yards out, just to the left of the target. Bannan whips a ball wide right of goal, with a view to Clark hoicking it back across the face. Nice idea, but one that's overcooked. Which segues neatly into something much more tender... "Your earlier reference to succulent lamb (10 min) may have been lost on your wider readership," suggests Simon McMahon, who is either not giving the rest of you enough credit, or me far too much. "Is there an English equivalent for journalists (not from the Guardian, of course) who are happy to toe the party line in return for privileged access at certain grounds? Juicy prawns, perhaps?" Well I can't speak for the big hitters of English football journalism, but I'm anyone's for a couple of cans of Purple Tin and my bus fare home. (Most of the big hitters of English football journalism are anyone's for a couple of cans of Purple Tin and their bus fare home.)
51 min: Vlaar, vowel heavy, is replaced by the consonant pile-up Lichaj.
49 min: A bright start to the half, and open, and end to end. Westwood has a dig from 25 yards, but it's straight at Szxzesny. Arsenal go up the other end through Podolski, who makes for the byline then slams a shot-cum-cross straight at Guzan at the near post.
47 min: A bright start to the half. Giroud, who looks like an exceptional striker, performs a little backflick on the edge of the Villa D, allowing Carzola to send a screamer, meant for the top left, whooshing just over the bar. "Don't be so hard on yourself!" writes Ryan Dunne. "Taking the supercilliousness out of The Guardian would be a bit like trying to take the lying out of politics." I could be cut and pasting myself out of a job here. The things I do for you people in the name of free speech, and this new-fangled Open Journalism.
And we're off again!
Villa get us underway once more. Westwood loops a ball down the right for Agbonlahor, who scuffs his attempted looper into the area. "Cracking analogy from Rob Lowery," opines Denis Hurley, "made better by the fact that Koscielny looks not unlike Kilkenny hurler John Tennyson."
For your leisure and pleasure, here's 29 seconds worth of HOT SOCCER ACTION from a 0-0 draw between the two sides at Villa Park two days before Christmas 1990. Worth having a watch of the build-up, mind you, especially if you miss the portentous incidental music from ITV's The Match - Sky did not invent pomposity - and also fancy seeing a young Gary Lineker trotting out some rather dubious do-it-for-Tony nonsense a few days after Mr Adams had been banged in the slammer for skittering around Essex in his motor all pissed up on booze.
Half time: Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal.
Koscielny's down the other end now, hooking away a low Bannan cross from the left. And that's that for the half. Anyway, regarding Rob Lowery's email of 34 mins, here's Alix Sharkey, and she's got a point: "I've never understood why 'all fur coat and no knickers' was meant to be an insult. Sounds like a fabulous combo to me. Although perhaps not optimal for defending the Arse. Boom-tiss."
43 min: Giroud tears down the left, and wheechs a low ball into the centre. Koscielny, of all people, is the man eight yards out. He's clear, having gently nudged Clark out of the picture, quite legally. But having done all the hard work, he blooters a godawful effort over the bar. That really should have been the opener.
42 min: El Ahmadi finds himself in a bit of space just to the right of the area. He slips a low ball into the area, but there's nobody there for him and Szczesny claims. "I can assure Ian Colvin that I'm no Villa fan," writes Matt Dony. "I just have a superhero complex, and an overwhelming urge to stand up for those unfairly wronged. It just so happened that, in this instance, that complex manifested itself in a vaguely sarcastic email." I have this horrible feeling that the Guardian has been encouraging this sort of superciliousness for quite a while now. We're not proud of ourselves.
39 min: El Ahmadi isn't far from breaking clear into the Arsenal box, but Mertesacker sticks out a telescopic leg and nudges the ball away from him. Superlative defending.
38 min: A well-worked free kick nearly opens the scoring for Villa. Bannan, just to the left of the box, slides a low ball across for Clark on the edge of the area. He hammers low towards the bottom left. The ball ricochets to the feet of Weimann, who from six yards turns and batters home. But he's offside, and the goal won't count.
37 min: A long ball down the Villa inside-left channel. Szczesny comes out to claim, but having done so slides out of his area on the greasy, wet turf. In fairness, the keeper did all he could to take his hands away from the ball as he aquaplaned out of the area. No booking. But that's a free kick.
34 min: Mertesacker is nursing a sore shoulder, by the way, having earlier been clattered (fairly) by Benteke. News which might worry Rob Lowery: "You missed the most significant thing about the Arsenal team. Wenger picking his best centre halfs with Gibbs at left back and Vermaelen left out. It's been said by many recently, but Vermaelen is all fur coat/ dramatic burst and no knickers/ proper positioning & calm defending. Ask Barry Glendenning about this analogy, but Vermaelen is the guy who prospers playing wingback for limerick hurlers while Koscielny is the dull farmer from Kilkenny with 14 All Irelands."
31 min: Arsenal are beginning to turn the screw ever so slightly. Now it's Jenkinson making trouble down the right. He looks for his strikers with a low cross, but it's hacked clear. Here's Denis Hurley re Arsenal's "thoroughly modern neon yellow" shirt: "This is actually the third season they have worn that kit, a real rarity in this day and age." Ah, an old-school attitude to strips, then. One which makes me feel a whole lot better about those earlier references to Fleetwood Mac and 1980s Channel 4.
29 min: Space for Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right. He looks for Podolski in the centre with a low fizzing cross, but the ball breaks clear to Ramsey, ten yards out level with the right-hand post. Ramsey gets a shot on target, but it's hacked clear by the feet of Guzan.
27 min: Arsenal triangulate awhile in the middle of the Villa half. Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla all attempt to prize open the Villa back line with cute lobs, to little effect. Suddenly Podolski bursts into the box down the inside-left, chasing after another little Cazorla flick. He nearly gets a shot away, but Clark is over quickly to cover, and Guzan snaffles. That doesn't sound very exciting, does it? And yet I've still made it sound more thrilling than it actually was.
24 min: It's all fits and starts, this game, and we're currently going through another lull. "Apologies if I have caused any offence to Matt Dony and other Villa fans," writes Ian Colvin. "I have seen Igors Stepanovs represent my football club. I understand football pain."
21 min: Oxlade-Chamberlain fires low and wide right of goal, a sorry end to a decent Arsenal move. Villa sweep upfield through El Ahmadi down the right. He goes over under a challenge from Cazorla - and is deemed to have dived, picking up a booking for simulation.
19 min: Villa Park dissolves in applause, in support for their stricken captain Stiliyan Petrov.
18 min: Corner for Villa down the right. The ball's swung deep towards Benteke, who looks for the top-right corner from a position 12 yards out, level with the left-hand post, but guides the ball just wide. A decent effort, that.
16 min: Villa are enjoying a fair bit of possession here. El Ahmadi ghosts down the right and stands one up to the far post towards Weimann, but Koscielny gets his eyebrows on the ball to deflect the danger. Villa are soon coming back at Arsenal, Bannan curling a half-decent effort towards the top-left corner, but one that's easily claimed by Arsenal's goalkeeper, whose monicker requires quite a lot of concentration to type, let me tell you that for free.
13 min: Vlaar makes a royal nuisance of himself in the middle, bursting forward and laying off for Westwood, who sprays a delicious ball out wide left for Weimann. Not sure whether Weimann is attempting to fizz a cross into the six-yard box for Benteke, or if he's going for goal from an outrageous angle, but his ball in is parried round the post by Szczesny. Lovely play. The corner? Not so lovely.
11 min: A free kick to Villa down the right, after Westwood is bundled to the floor by Ramsey. Bannan curls a decent ball towards the far post, but there's nobody attacking it, and it floats out harmlessly for a goal kick on the left. "Although I see where he's coming from, Ian Colvin's email is a bit of a slap in the face for Villa fans," suggests Matt Dony. "Having played Arsenal at their gaff scores of times, not one of those times has had as much significance as that time they played a different team there. Sorry, Villa, you just don't make an impression. Like magnolia, or vanilla."
10 min: El Ahmadi, in the centre circle, fizzes a low ball straight down the middle of the pitch. Benteke isn't far from latching onto it, but Szczesny is out quickly to clatter clear. "I fear this referee Mr Mason is wasted down south. I'd love to see him officiate a Glorious Glasgow Rangers game!" Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Ryan Dunne. He's here all week. Try the succulent lamb.
9 min: There ain't nothin' goin' on but the rain.
7 min: A quiet start to this match, both on and off the field. The Arsenal fans belt out a rendition of their Santi Cazorla song, but they're almost whispering it, in the style of Lindsey Buckingham's vocal during the opening lines of Tusk.
4 min: Giroud makes good into space down the left, but his curly cross is headed out at the near post by first man Vlaar. The corner is much ado about nothing (minus quite a lot of ado).
3 min: Arsenal's brash yellow shirts are causing contrast issues on the televisions at Hackery Mansions. All I can make out are custard dots floating around the screen. It's like watching afternoon animation on Channel 4 in between programmes during the 1980s, when they'd not managed to sell any adverts. Making out the numbers is going to be a test, is what I'm trying to say.
And, amid lashing rain, Arsenal kick off!
They're firing towards the Holte End in the first half. They lose possession within 12 seconds, hoofing it towards the right-hand corner flag. I feel like I'm still watching the rugby.
The teams are out!
And, furthermore, they're about! Villa are in their gloriously Victorian claret and blue, while Arsenal are in a thoroughly modern neon yellow.
From watercolours to high quality giclée prints, whatever they are... "My tribute to Mr. Wenger in a geeky periodic table," shills Yannis. "It would make a lovely Christmas present. Maybe." Only 30 shopping days to go, kids, what are you waiting for?
Pre-match misty water-coloured chat: "Really the most significant thing about Villa Park for many Gooners is the 1999 FA Cup semi final reply against Man U," begins Ian Colvin. "I happened to be sitting behind Dennis's wife, Henritta Bergkamp, during the game. She was clutching one of his Arsenal shirts for luck. It didn't work. He missed the pen and they went onto win the treble. Anelka's notorious brother, Claude, was sat behind us. This was before the glory days of his Raith Rovers stewardship." All together now, ladies and gentlemen... if Arsene had the chance to do it all again, would he? Could he?
Cast and crew
Aston Villa recall Karim El Ahmadi in place of Stephen Ireland, but there's no room for fit-again Darren Bent, not even on the sub's bench: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Stevens, El Ahmadi, Westwood, Weimann, Bannan, Agbonlahor, Benteke. Subs: Given, Ireland, Albrighton, Holman, Delph, Bowery, Lichaj.
Arsenal rest Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey fielded in his stead: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud. Subs: Mannone, Sagna, Vermaelen, Wilshere, Coquelin, Arshavin, Gervinho.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire). Mr Mason has been flashing his yellow card around with reckless abandon this season - 44 times in 10 games, to be precise - but he's yet to wave the red in anyone's coupon. Not even Robert Huth's phizog, in the wake of the big man's Gene Kelly tribute act on Luis Suarez's chest at Anfield. A tolerant man, then. Sliced at another angle, he's due a sending off or three. It is on!
It's the most predictable outcome in All Football. Look at Villa's home record against Manchester United since they won The Alan Hansen Game® in 1995: P21, W1, D6, L14, F13, A31. Look at it! The one win came in the League Cup against a team containing Michael Twiss, Luke Chadwick, Ronnie Wallwork, Michae It's the most predictable outcome in All Football. Look at Villa's recent record against Arsenal. They haven't beaten the Gunners at Villa Park since the days of Julian Joachim and Dion Dublin! For the record, that pair sealed a 3-2 comeback win in December 1998, Dennis Bergkamp having given Arsene Wenger's side a two-goal lead at half time. Admittedly since that last home win, they've won twice at the Emirates in recent years - a 2-1 win two seasons ago, and a 2-0 victory in 2008 - but it still leaves them with the following record since that heady Joachim-Dublin match: W2, D8, L18.
That doesn't augur well for Villa, who are in the relegation zone having been battered 5-0 at Manchester City last weekend. Arsenal, on the other hand, have been an inconsistent shower so far this season, but they're coming off the back of a confidence-boosting 5-2 win over their despised rivals Spurs, and a comfortable 2-0 Champions League victory over Montpellier. They've scored 17 in their last six games, while Villa have let in 12 over the same period.
There is some hope for Villa, mind: they were excellent in the first 60 minutes of their ultimately futile match against Manchester United, finally showing some real potency up front, while Arsenal have let in 13 goals during this six-match period I'm banging on about. Arsenal are strong favourites, then, but with a pair of rickety old defences being wheeled out this evening, you never know. Goals, please!
Kick off: 5.30pm.