Arsenal 1 (Giroud 6) – Aston Villa 3 (Benteke 22, 61 (pen), Luna 85)
Man of the Match – Cristian Benteke (Aston Villa)
3 months of agonizing waiting finally ceased yesterday, but on a sour note. All the anticipation of the return of the Premier League to finally enlighten our lives. Unfortunately, it will be another week compounded by frustration and misery, as Arsenal failed to secure any points from a physical and tense opening encounter against visiting Aston Villa.
With a horde of players leaving the club during the summer, and a squad that is beset by injury problems, Arsene Wenger had to do a bit of shuffling with the squad sheet. Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Ryo Miyaichi, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby were all unfit to start. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started alongside Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky in midfield, while Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott started upfront.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, having gone through a summer transition, named a bunch full of debutants. Star Belgian striker Cristian Benteke, contributor of 19 goals last season, led the line for the Villains.
Arsenal were off to a great start, with some slick passing, as Tomas Rosicky released Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Villa’s right. Chamberlain ran half the length of the pitch to set up Olivier Giroud, who had escaped the attentions of Villa’s centre backs to tap the ball home. It was looking all so good, leading 1-0 after just 6 minutes.
The game soon began to rise as a physical battle between the two sides, as Nathan Baker came the worst in a tussle with Theo Walcott, and had to be replaced by Ciaran Clark. Jack Wilshere, then almost set up Giroud, but the Frenchman’s effort was wayward.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and Cristian Benteke were proving to be more than a handful for Arsenal’s fragile defenders, and the lack of a defensive midfielder clearly told when Agbonlahor made a darting run through midfield, past Arsenal’s defenders, before being bought down in the box by a hapless Szczesny, to earn the visiting side a penalty.
Benteke stepped up, and after his weak initial effort was saved by Szczesny, he made no mistake on the rebound, to equalize matters. The game got even more feisty as the teams contested more duels, on the ground and in the air. Kieran Gibbs came out all bloodied, after a clash of heads with Villa winger Andreas Weimann, and had to be bought off, replaced by Carl Jenkinson. Bacary Sagna moved to left back.
Wilshere earned a yellow card as he reacted to a crude Ron Vlaar challenge, earning himself a yellow card. Lack of communication between Antonio Luna and Brad Guzan almost led to Arsenal’s second goal, as Theo Walcott collected the ball at the edge of the box, but his attempted pass to Giroud was intercepted.
More calamitous defending was on view, when Szczesny raced clear of his position, to mindlessly clear the ball high into the air, only in the path of Benteke. The Pole tried to retrieve the situation, before Villa almost scored, when Weimann took a shot from long range to force a diving save from Szczesny.
Arsenal were forced to bring on Santi Cazorla in the second half, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain couldn’t continue having clashed with Antonio Luna. Arsenal looked more sprightly in midfield, as Rosicky began t orchestrate things. He should have made it 2-1, having played a beautiful pick and pass with Giroud to go clean through of Villa’s defence, but his resultant shot was high and not handsome at all.
Fabian Delph, instead, almost made it 2-1 to Villa, when his unexpected long effort struck the inside of the post, on to the other post and out. Arsenal had managed to escape, momentarily. Agbonlahor went on another run, and was this time bought down by Laurent Koscielny, and the ref Anthony Taylor harshly adjudged it to be a penalty after television replays clearly proved that Koscielny had gotten the ball first.
Cristian Benteke made no mistake with the spot kick this time, sending Szczesny the wrong way, to make it 2-1 to Villa. To make matters worse for Arsenal, Koscielny was sent off moments later, as his untimed challenged bought down Weimann, in another well build Villa attack.
Arsenal looked for an equalizer, and Rosicky forced a fine save off Guzan. Minutes later, Rosicky headed the ball into the path of Santi Cazorla, whose left footed rifle struck Guzan and onto the post. Arsenal were left bare at the back on a corner, and Villa left-back Antonio Luna raced on to a cleared corner to easily slot home Villa’s winner in the 86th minute.
Arsenal’s woes were compounded when Bacary Sagna landed awkwardly and had to be bought off. The final whistle bought with it a chorus of boos across the Emirates, and chants such as “Spend some fucking money!”.
It was a disastrous start to Arsenal’s Premier League campaign, and the frailties of the squad were visible to everyone. The club has started it’s campaign in the most unprepared fashion.
Two years back, it took a sound 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford, for the club to go out and make some reinforcements. However, this summer has only seen as mass exodus, and only the arrival of an unheralded French striker into the squad.
It speaks of lack of planning, a lack of vision and an utter lack of ambition. The club clearly is short of defenders, that too with the injuries to Vermaelen and Monreal. After the game, even Sagna and Gibbs have joined the treatment table. For the Fulham game, Arsenal could have only 2 fit defenders, in Mertesacker and Jenkinson, as Koscielny is suspended.
In midfield, Arsenal looked lightweight, against a battling Villa side. There was no defensive midfielder to enforce things, despite Ramsey being impressive in recent times. Arsenal had to bring on a knackered Cazorla in the second half, and the Spaniard had little ideas, as Villa closed him down perfectly. Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky were lively, yet had little support, as Walcott failed to run the channels.
The lack of proper options on the bench is another major concern. A half fit Sanogo, Frimpong and Gnabry sat along side Cazorla and Podolski. I can go on and on, but the problems are there for everyone to see. Lack of transfer activity, an ailing squad, a stubborn manager and a pile of fixtures. It is going to be another long and hard season.