Thankfully, fans aren’t permitted inside stadiums yet, because the prospect of traveling to the midlands and Villa Park to watch a jaded and unimaginative Arsenal was too much. As was the prospect of making the 114.4-mile journey back in virtual silence, deprived of any semblance of performance.
So, it was less devastating to sit in the lounge on a pleasant Tuesday evening suffering a game that had no real bearing on the season unless you’re a Villa fan. The 1-0 defeat was another pointless example of the often-used ‘possession’ figure against the only thing that truly matters in a game…goals. A vital one in this case.
Villa were looking to avoid the drop and upon hearing of Watford’s comprehensive thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, Dean Smith’s side came ready for all eventualities.
Reading this, you might wrongly conclude that Villa took their goal which was beautifully executed in the 27th minute by a prowling Trezeguet and then just sat back, they didn’t, they always looked more likely to score than Arsenal, who only had a Nketiah header to their name. The attempt at goal bounced off the post into the arms of a grateful Reina. There wasn’t even anyone close to pushing it in with Arsenal once again lacking any ambition.
Other than that, Villa could have set up a table and chairs in their area and invited Arsenal for tea and scones without having to give them either, such was the lack of penetration. The goal itself was an opportunist and well deserved, just reward for Villa’s determination and persistence.
Hourihane’s deliciously wicked corner took a flick off the head of Mings, with the defender managing to drag at least three Arsenal players with him as the Gunners lost their defensive shape. This lack of awareness and concentration meant the visitors conceded a huge pocket space on their left. The ball kindly fell to the foot of Trezeguet who lashed it in past a statuesque Martinez.
Soares, who didn’t offer much going forward and less in defence, was the only line of resistance as the ball dropped, but he turned away as the Villa man connected and fell sideways. They call it a ‘bottle job’ in the stands and it was certainly Xhakaesque.
After getting the goal, Villa defended brilliantly until half-time, frustrating the North London side into a series of meaningless passes back, forth, and sideways. There wasn’t much to enjoy from an Arsenal point of view other than appreciating the skill and work rate of Jack Grealish, who was head and shoulders above everyone on the pitch.
Grealish, who is linked to a summer transfer to Man United, was Arsenal’s main tormentor and the woeful Gunners allowed him time and space to roam the flank. They couldn’t pick him up or close him down and in the second half (75), he nearly grabbed a second for Villa with an enterprising run that had the Arsenal players looking at his shirt number as he breezed past.
He released a perfectly weighted pass to Davis, who motored into the area with only Martinez to beat but somehow managed to send the ball spinning past the post. It would have been no more than Villa deserved, capping a fantastic individual display for Grealish who was easily MOTM.
It’s hard to find any positives from an Arsenal point of view, the much-talked-about attack was as lethal as getting hit in the face with a wet sponge. Aubameyang and Lacazette were ineffective due to the lack of opportunities and non-existent service.
Even the introduction of Pepe and Tierney failed to offer any hope as Villa kept their shape, meeting the opposition head-on as soon as the ball landed at the feet of an Arsenal player.
Ceballos played the ball around, but he was the only source of creativity. The Spaniard couldn’t find anyone capable of running behind the blanket defence and had to be content with receiving and distributing the ball to no avail.
The dizzy heights of the 2-1 Liverpool win and 2-0 City win, with three games in less than a week, had taken its toll and it highlighted just how shallow Arsenal’s squad is, full of rookies and driftwood that can’t make an impact on a game.
Arsenal will come up against many teams like Villa next season, who’s objective is to get a result whatever the cost. They will be met by well organised defences, who are desperate for a point and Arsenal have to find a way through. Arteta needs someone that has the key to those sorts of games and he can only do that by visiting the transfer market.
In the end, Villa won this game comfortably and they are probably on the verge of continuing their adventure in the Premier League. Arsenal needs a break, a rethink, and new faces.