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The Gloves Are Off: How Arsenal Failed to Match a Team Destined For a Relegation Battle

Arsenal Vs Aston Villa, Arsenal v Aston Villa

In the Arsenal v Aston Villa game, Mikel Arteta went for the same side that acquitted themselves so well against Manchester United, and in particular, it was interesting that the Spaniard stuck with Mohamed Elneny.

Joe Willock had performed well against Molde and a great many thought that Dani Ceballos was the obvious choice in midfield for his ability to add to the Gunners’ attacking artillery. I was one of those people, but the Egyptian midfielder held his spot after an exceptional performance at Old Trafford that made him my Man of the Match for that game.

Arteta has tinkered constantly with this Arsenal side so far this season, but it appears that results and performances are starting to be a major factor in his thoughts. Some names virtually pick themselves such as Leno, Gabriel, Partey, Saka, and Aubameyang. Is Elneny the latest name to find its way onto that list? Early days, but what a turnaround for the midfielder.

Arsenal needed a display in the Arsenal v Aston Villa game that finally showed the strike force in a favourable light because the service had been spectacularly poor to date. What they served up was the complete opposite. As the ref’s whistle loomed, the inescapable downpour hit the Emirates which would help or hinder the sides in their pursuit of three points.

Arsenal v Aston Villa
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Within a minute of the start, Villa went in front with McGinn’s goal, who fired the ball like a rocket past Leno into the roof of his net. Barkley was offside but it was unclear if he interfered with the play, enter VAR, and the ref Martin Atkinson to unravel the mystery. It took a further four minutes to decide that Barkley had impeded the keeper’s vision and Arsenal could breathe again.

With the nerves settling after the unscripted Villa goal, Arsenal tried to establish some rhythm with Thomas Partey appearing to cast his shadow across the pitch and into the opponent’s half. The midfielder is a sight to behold thudding around the pitch and within 10 minutes, he nearly grasped the initiative by intercepting a sloppy back pass from McGinn, but he knocked it into a grateful Martinez.

Arsenal went through the gears and started to look more purposeful from that point, it wouldn’t last. It was that man Partey who provided Aubameyang with a sweet pass and who in turn crossed for Willian, but the Brazilian slapped its way into the stratosphere. Yet again, Arsenal were guilty of declining the food at the banquet even when it was put on a plate. It’s an irritating and recurring theme and will cost them lots of points in the long run.

Adding insult to injury, both Saka and Tierney were guilty of heavy feet at a crucial moment and Trezeguet showed the Gunners how to finish (25), with Grealish, Targett, and Trezeguet displaying an array of nice touches, flicks, and a cute backheel that was hit low and hard past Arsenal’s sprawling keeper.

On closer examination, Saka was credited with the final touch, which was a shame for Arsenal’s most consistent attacking player. This all had a familiar ring to it and you could feel the collective hearts of the Gunners fans sinking quicker than a lorry load of concrete in the Thames.

It was the type of goal that Arsenal used to be known for, a mixture of patience, invention, artistry, and potency. Something we are still waiting to see this season in the Premier League. 34 minutes in and the pesky McGinn floated a long ball over the top for Grealish, but Gabriel snuffed out any possibility of a chance.

The Arsenal v Aston Villa game was suddenly in the balance at one – Nil, with both sides throwing caution to the wind in the attack. Arsenal were again guilty of a major misfire (41) when Tierney found Lacazette’s head. True to form, the Frenchman turned the opportunity into another miss and for me, there are no more chances left in the striker’s role. It’s either Aubameyang, Nketiah, or Balogun as the central striker.

Arsenal finished the half as the second-best team and began the same way but without Thomas Partey, which made the scoreline worse. Dani Ceballos was the replacement and I think everyone expected Arsenal to start owning the game but Aston Villa were still in charge with Barkley, Trezeguet, and Grealish taking it in turns to turn the Gunners inside out.

In the 61st minute, with Willian looking more of a luxury by the minute, it took two central defenders to threaten the Villa goal with Gabriel’s pass spinning off a defender to Rob Holding but the former Bolton man scuffed it wide. Arteta rolled the dice by taking off the under-performing Willian and the underwhelming Lacazette, to bring on an inconsistent Pepe and the fledgling Nketiah but Villa still held all the cards.

As Arsenal tried to retrieve the situation, Villa killed off the game with their second from Watkins (72). Douglas Luiz lofted a ball over the top to Barkley, who found the head of Watkins from a couple of yards out from goal. Arsenal faces said it all, Villa had done it again, in the same way, with the exact same game plan.

The Arsenal v Aston Villa game looked like the visitors were showing the Gunners how to attack and finish and to be fair, the visitors were good value for a 0-2 win. Then, just as fans would normally be looking forward to a pint at the end of a thoroughly miserable evening, Watkins put a cherry on top.

It was almost poetic that Martinez should find Grealish who ran like an Olympic sprinter into Arsenal territory before finding Watkins, who nutmegged Leno and made the scoreline 3-0. That summed up the Arsenal v Aston Villa game and the Gunners. All this talk of Arsenal’s miserly defence looked like a terrible joke told by a passing drunk minus the crucial punchline.

It could have been worse, Villa could have had six goals with Arsenal resembling a badly made patchwork quilt and despite some good results recently, the Gunners have been exposed as a top-six pretender. How does Arteta address this latest failure? By becoming ruthless and dropping the expensive failures, especially Lacazette, who wasn’t worth his slot on either of the last three occasions.

Willian, who keeps up the tradition of Chelsea players that remain on the payroll for the Blues, needs to discover his appetite. After playing a blinder against Fulham, he has gone completely off the boil and is best known for running back and forth for 90 minutes.


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Pepe, who continues to use blistering pace to no avail and occasionally sprints forward without even taking the ball with him, needs similar treatment. He is painfully inconsistent and although he has talent, it’s just not working for whatever reason.

Let’s give Nelson, Maitland-Niles, and Balogun a chance, anything is better than this performance. As I said in an earlier blog, Arsenal, as a project, are far from the finished article and more money needs to be invested, especially in midfield.

The result of the Arsenal v Aston Villa game is going to be hard to forget in a hurry and as for this season, who knows where Arsenal are going to end up. Against the Lions, they couldn’t defend or attack, and yet again, they couldn’t score with three very good and expensive strikers at their disposal.

Follow ArseDevils for regular Matchday updates about Arsenal.

The Highbury Flyer
Anti Kroenke , anti Gazidis but always a gooner. Still wishes he could watch from the stands at the Highbury library.

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