Aston Villa 0 – Arsenal 0
Man of the Match – Barry Bannan (Aston Villa)
‘You don’t know what you’re doing.’ rang around Villa Park, as Arsenal’s sole striker on the pitch Olivier Giroud trudged off to be replaced by Francis Coquelin.
And, that bought curtains on another ‘rather disappointing’ result for Arsenal. Disappointment clearly because this was game, Arsenal were expected to take 3 points out of. But, a combination of rain, fatigue, 110% effort from Aston Villa and lack of striking options kept Arsenal at bay.
There were no surprises in Villa’s starting line-up, except for El Ahmadi getting the nod over Stephen Ireland. Arsenal made 3 changes to the side that beat Montpellier in midweek, with Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey coming in for Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere respectively.
The game got on to a typically familiar start, that we witnessed against Fulham and Tottenham, with Villa managing to keep hold of the ball for longer periods. Lanky forward Christian Benteke was causing problems for Arsenal’s defenders, with his physique, and Gabriel Agbonlahor with his pace.
Villa had the first go at goal, when Andreas Weimann, who scored twice against Manchester United two weeks back, had his shot (or was it an attempted cross?) palmed away by Wocjiech Szczesny. Benteke, then was allowed a free header, but he couldn’t direct his shot on goal.
Aaron Ramsey, looked lively in the centre of midfield. This can partly be attributed to Villa’s pursued marking of dangerman Santi Cazorla. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had Arsenal’s first go on goal, but his effort went wide. Ramsey then had his effort saved by American Brad Guzan.
Villa won a free-kick in a dangerous area, when Wojciech Szczesny was wrongly adjudged to have handled the ball outside the area. He caught the ball within the penalty box, but the slippery surface added to his momentum, and he slided out of the penalty box. Television replays showed he had released the ball on time.
Barry Bannan’s free-kick was well worked. Ron Vlaar came at the end of it, and he fired it straight at a pile of bodies. It fell right to the feet of Weimann, who poked the ball home, but he was rightly called as offside.
Villa were growing in stature, as the game opened up. Arsenal had a great chance, when Olivier Giroud cut in from the left, and his pass was bundled over by the left foot of Koscielny, who was unmarked in the middle of the penalty box.
Cazorla, kept under wraps by Villa’s tireless midfield, almost opened the scoring, when his shot went past the post. Arsenal looked more attacking, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s run ended in Ramsey shooting wide. Podolski had a shot saved as well.
Villa had two great chances to win the game, when substitute Brett Holman, recently voted as the ‘Australian Footballer of the Year’ fed Agbonlahor, who forced a save from Szczesny. Minutes later, Holman’s brilliant effort smashed the bar, with Szczesny getting a small touch on the ball.
Arsenal had very little to offer up front, as the manager bought off Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and replaced them with Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin, who almost combined for a late winner, but for an interception from Ciaran Clark.
The removal of Giroud sparked outrage from the band of vociferous Arsenal supporters, who were vocal throughout the game. The manager had bought off a striker, and replaced him with a defensive midfielder, surely not the way to go forward.
Arsene Wenger looked particularly peeved in the post match press conference, as a brutal media posed some stern questions. They were met with visibly angry responses from Wenger, who was quoted as saying,
What is the thinking behind the substitution? I will not explain every decision I make,I have managed for 30 years at the top level and I have to convince you [journalists] I can manage the team?I don’t want to comment on that. I do my job and do my best for the club. Why should I create a rift? I have given you the answer.I leave it to you to judge. I try to be as good as I can be. You are all great managers! I read the newspapers every day and I can tell you that you are always great managers!You judge the game for the papers and I sit here and explain to you our game. How many games have you managed? I promise you if you manage one I will sit in the stands and chant ‘you know what you are doing!You can discuss every substitution. You think what you want. I do my job and I let people judge it. I do that every day and I do my best every day. I know why I do it.
I think the media and the fans need to give the manager his time. Yes, it’s been long since we won a trophy, but slagging the man off at every possible opportunity is not going to take us anywhere.
Honestly, the game was not all doom and gloom. There were plenty of positives to be taken out. First of all, the defence looks solid at the moment. We have to go back to the start of the season, for the last time we kept two clean sheets in a row. Mertesacker and Koscielny were at their best again. Szczesny gives more assurance at the back, and Gibbs looked sharp as well.
In midfield, Arteta and Cazorla look jaded. And that’s why Ramsey was able to dictate more of the game. With the media posing questions regarding Wilshere’s absence, I think choosing Ramsey was right. A 3rd tired midfielder would have resulted us in completely losing the midfield battle.
Giroud worked hard yet again, but had to deal with Villa’s central defenders closing down on him, every time he got the ball. He went wide and deep a few times, and showed he is willing to work hard, which is always a good sign.
The continued substitution of Lukas Podolski still puzzles me. No one knows for sure, what the logic behind it is. Andrey Arshavin came on and tried a couple of things, but it was too little, too late. Gervinho was poor again. He has completely lost his confidence, by the looks of it. I cannot give any other explanation why he takes the ball away from the goal than towards it.
Keep the faith!
Jai Arsenal 🙂