What a wonderfully odd season this is turning out to be. Form is irrelevant at times and some sides including Arsenal turn up for business every second or third match. During this torturous Premier League campaign, Mikel Arteta recently managed to steer his side clear of a relegation vortex, but with a desperately unlucky loss to Wolves and a distinctly blunt performance against Aston Villa, it won’t be long before Arsenal find themselves slipping backward to scrap it out with the condemned sides like Sheffield United and West Brom.
Arsenal conceded after 74 seconds and new keeper Mathew Ryan, making on his disappointing debut, tried to make amends for a goal that wasn’t of his making. His form was decent enough but the solitary goal was provided by his defence, namely Cedric and Gabriel who failed to clear.
Bertrand Traore was quick to react and he popped it square to Ollie Watkins to score via a deflection and that set the tone for the Aston Villa vs Arsenal game. It was always going to be a big ask to breach a well organised, sometimes desperate but completely committed Villa and Arsenal lacked potency in the final third.
The stage was set for Emi Martinez to show Arsenal that they backed the wrong horse by letting him go in the summer for a derisory fee. 16 minutes in and Arsenal were chasing hard with Lacazette, Smith Rowe, and Saka trying to unlock the gates, but in the background, looking particularly stingy, was the powerful-looking Argentinian.
Old flaws were evident as final passes seemed to just run out of steam. Possession wasn’t a problem for the Gunners but a way through was proving to be elusive and without Tierney thundering down the left, Arsenal again had to depend on Saka and Pepe.
28 minutes in and Xhaka nearly opened Arsenal’s account with a marvellous free-kick, which would have been added to the collection of Exocet missiles but those big gloves of Martinez came to Villa’s rescue. Not to be left out, Ryan was called into action minutes later with a combination of Barkley and Traore. Thank god, he recovered in time for this game or it could have been over in the first 45.
Arsenal’s problems this season have been many. They seem to switch off in defence, the midfield can’t provide the necessary service to the advanced strikers and the strikers can’t put the ball in the net regularly. The only plus point at Villa Park was that Jack Grealish was having a very quiet day at the office and that gave the Gunners fans some joy at least, but that wouldn’t last an entire 90 minutes.
I’m concerned about Thomas Partey who indicated more thigh problems in his stop-start season which reflects Arsenal’s own form. How bad is the problem and will he feature again in the coming weeks? It’s hard to tell but I think it’s safe to say it’s a recurring problem and if it continues, Arteta’s side will continue to struggle.
The truth is that Arsenal huffed and puffed but Aston Villa dealt with every attack confidently and with a degree of ease, even the introduction of Odegaard couldn’t produce the goods but there was some promise in his footwork and he could impress in the games ahead. Villa held firm and although some will be critical of that ploy, it’s the job of the visitors to win the game and it’s been a tactic that has kept the Villa train firmly on the Premier League rails.
Two losses back-to-back and suddenly Arsenal look vulnerable again, short of ideas and goals and Arteta’s face on the touch-line was a picture. Like someone reliving a dark memory and his body language suggested that if he could have taken to the field to start organising the troops, he would have.
Arteta wasn’t the epitome of a vintage Arsenal midfielder during his days at the club but he worked hard and had his moments going forward. This side could do with his influence, desire, and stamina on occasion because their chins have a habit of hitting the turf too often.
For every six steps forward, Arsenal take four backwards or are unable to release the handbrake. No doubt, the Europa League will see Arsenal return to form in a tricky tie against Benfica but Leeds are just around the corner and who can predict how that will end with two teams who constantly need re-evaluating depending on the result.
Arsenal should be beating the likes of Wolves and Villa but this is an average side that occasionally looks the part but delivers rarely. I’ve no answers for you but Cedric looked short at times, not exclusively his fault and the team as a whole lacks consistency. It’s still very much a works in progress. More uppy-downy adventures to come I’m afraid. Buckle up!