So it has been about 12 hours since the game. The result has sunk in me now and I believe it is time for the club to really get a reality check on the current situation. This Villa match truly exposed Arsenal’s weaknesses.
Firstly, Arsenal dominated in possession. 64% compared to Villa’s meager 36%. However, the huge gap in possession was expected. What should have happened from this also was greater clear cut goal scoring opportunities. On the attacking side of this match, this was what did not happen. Only 4 shots on target, despite having much of the ball. Remember though, out of the four, one was a goal and two were sitters that Rosicky missed. The last was Cazorla’s excellent shot from up close that Villa somehow managed to hit away.
Against teams that look to be on the counter and play a deep midfield and defense, two ways to stretch them out and gain space for our light attackers to pass their way into the team are: 1. Use wide wings that will stretch the width of the field. 2. Take distant shots and threaten the opposing GK, which will make defenders come forward to prevent shots. Aston Villa deployed a very deep formation today, with Benteke even floating around on his team’s side to help defend. What Arsenal needed to do was try to disturb and stretch Villa’s defense by using either of the two above tactics.
In the beginning, Ox was great. He was drifting towards the side with his pace, which ultimately translated to a sharp, low cross and Giroud’s opener. But after his knock, we rarely saw Arsenal use the full width of the field. Walcott’s got blistering pace, but his crosses are quite off target, which I think he knows and which is probably why he tries to cut in most of the time. Today, our full backs weren’t as aggressively coming out as usual. Because Agbonlahor has some blistering pace, that is understandable, but the full backs really should have got more forward tho. When Santi was introduced, although he can play the side, he is a player that also prefers to cut in.
So, Arsenal, with its thin squad, really had to exploit Villa’s vulnerability to long shots. But on the current Arsenal squad, the only players that can somewhat take a powerful shot are Arteta, Rosicky, and Vermaelen. Rosicky had a great game and he really could have won the game for us. But it just wasn’t his day, so I don’t see how his long shots could have gone in when he couldn’t get it going from a couple yards out. Arteta and Vermaelen weren’t even in for the game unfortunately. So we blanked out on this department.
Ultimately, the club was left to pass the ball around. We nearly doubled the number of passes Villa made, and most of them being ineffective ones too. It seems like it is time for Arsenal to change up their attacking plan and play with adjustments to the opposition. We cannot afford to play the same type of game against every opponent.
Regarding our defense situation, it seems like the Villa game also gave us a very clear reality check. Our back four of Sagna Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Gibbs isn’t bad at all. As we haven’t made any new signings in the back (nor in the middle or the front really) in a way, it is the same team that went on a crazy invincibility mode the last few months of last season. Then what went wrong?
While we stayed the same (maybe even a step back if you think of some players’ ages), other teams beefed up. Aston Villa debutant Luna scored on a counter against us, while Agbonlahor and Benteke were their usual selves, tormenting us. So we were unlucky with Gibbs going off, and Sagna taking a knock too. Koscielny didn’t get to play a full game either. Howeer, the lead up to the penalties were entirely the defense’s fault and not the referee. Calls in a football game can go either way, but the team’s overall defense was pretty sub-par.
This includes the midfield. We deployed quite a attack focused midfield, with Ramsey possibly being the most hesitant one in attack. But Aaron isn’t a defensive midfielder, so there was really so much he could do. Especially against counter attacking sides, the holding midfield player needs to cut a few passes here and there, but Ramsey isn’t the best player at that. The back four’s formation was also not set, as a few times too many, they were off positioned, leaning towards one side of the pitch more than the other.
Szczesny’s opening day performance was also pretty near horrible. He was lucky to not be sent off in the first half, while he also had one horrible clearance. But then, Arsenal’s GK issue is something we’ve always had an issue with since Jens’ departure.
Probably the worst way to start a season, but the positives are that we can only get better than this. Signings will come now, although it is unfortunate that they will most likely be panic buys, and we usually don’t have much success with those. Enjoy the highlight for now, although you can’t really say “enjoy” on this one.