Gunners Vilified While Villa Thrive: Report & Player Ratings

This man has some thinking to do

The fan consensus about Arsenal is pretty damning this morning.

We got outplayed, outfought and out-thought on our own ground by a very decent Aston Villa side.

Losing is always disappointing, but it is much harder when you go down without a fight. Last night we collapsed with barely a whimper. In fact, we put the ‘wimp’ in whimper.

What was Mikel Arteta’s response afterwards?

Well, it was actually pretty classy. He did not throw any individual players under the bus (as Mourinho would probably have done in similar circumstances). He put the blame squarely on his own shoulders:

We performed below our standards, our ability and I didn’t see the spirit for the first time that I have seen every day in training and every day when we compete.

This is totally my fault, it is why I am here, I am responsible for that, to make sure the team performs and competes at the highest level every three days. Today I haven’t done that, so obviously it is my fault.

At the end of the day, if you are late in ever decision you make, if you don’t win enough duels, if every second ball isn’t for us, you don’t show the quality with the ball, you cannot defend your box, and when you get chances you don’t even hit the target, it is a really complicated way to win football matches.

The match itself started badly when Villa had the ball in the back of our net in the first minute. VAR correctly ruled it offside (a Villa player was interfering with Leno’s line of sight) but it was a warning as to the visitors’ intent. Unfortunately we did not use it as a wake-up call.

The same starting 11 that were dominant across the pitch against Manchester United struggled to win any 50-50s, seemed low on energy and individually full of errors. Even in that Old Trafford win we were pretty toothless up front despite our superiority. Against Villa our toothlessness sank to a whole new level of gummy impotence.

The front three of Auba-Laca-Willian were far too far apart from each other for most of the game so moves broke down almost as soon as the ball reached them. Willian in particular had a truly awful game that must have had Chelsea fans rolling about laughing.

Nothing progressive came from midfield, although Partey had one or two dangerous-looking surges. Unfortunately an injury prevented him from returning after the half time break. Ceballos took his place but also struggled to make a big impact on the game.

One of the ironies was seeing our FA Cup hero goalie Emi Martinez return to the club where he had served over a decade in the shadows before his sudden rise to glory and walking off the pitch with three points and having barely been troubled. Villa’s second goal came from Big Emi catching a contested cross that Leno would probably have punched, then releasing the Villa attack with an outstanding Lehmann-like throw out.

I know there is no point raking over the goalkeeper decision now, but I am by no means convinced we kept the right stopper.

Overall, we looked weak in every department while the Midlanders looked strong, fast, decisive and dangerous.

I wrote a column a few weeks ago suggesting they could be a surprise Top Four package this season and I saw nothing yesterday to dissuade me from that. In Grealish they have the best English player of his generation (inexplicably frozen out of Gareth Southgate’s first team plans); Grealish’s partnership with Ross Barkley is turning into something potent (Ian Wright said the team he would most like to play for this season if he were still young is Villa because of Grealish-Barkley); and in Ollie Watkins they have a confident and in-form striker (who happens to be an Arsenal fan).

For all the pain of our performance, I actually enjoyed watching the way Villa played last night. In Arsene Wenger’s famous metaphor they played with the handbrake fully off. They deserve congratulations. Towards the end I found myself thinking “I wish we could play like that.” As for us? It’s not so much that our handbrake was on, it’s that we didn’t have a handbrake. Or an engine. Or any wheels. We played like a clapped out Ford Escort stripped bare and propped up on bricks after being left overnight in Scouseland.

But that’s enough doom and gloom.

For all the disappointment we have to remember that it was one game. Undoubtedly there is a lot for Mikel Arteta to think about it, but our young manager in whom we have such high hopes has not become useless overnight.

In his post match interview he added that you learn more from defeats than from victories and already in his brief tenure at the helm of HMS Arsenal he has earned the right to be given time to do that learning and to put things right.

I, for one, am a long way from giving up on him.

A lacklustre performance happens to all teams at times and I’m sure Arteta can get the players fired up again. A bigger issue is that we are creating so few chances and the answer to solving that problem probably lies less with personnel (although that is part of it) and more with how we set up.

Arteta came in to a club that gave away sloppy goals for fun and saw his first job as making us tighter and better organised at the back. Notwithstanding yesterday, he has mostly achieved that.

But the process of doing so seems to have infected him with a sense of undue caution. It’s time now for less caution and more risk. He who dares doesn’t always win, but he feels a lot better about himself for having tried.

Arteta has the international break to ponder things. He has been drilling his team in a certain style of play but that style now needs to be modified and I hope he is broad shouldered enough to admit it.

Release the handbrake Mikel.

Player Ratings

Leno – 4

Not sure he could have done much about any of the goals, but you don’t get points for letting three in.

Bellerin – 5

Average from Hector and no more.

Holding – 5

For a change individual defensive errors did not undo us, more an overall paucity of effort and concentration. Rob was average.

Gabriel – 6

Our best performer on the night, but no-one gets MoTM after that showing.

Tierney – 5

Unusually tentative at times and made one hilarious slip that has already become a meme.

Partey – 5

Looked promising at times but went off injured at HT.

Elneny – 5

Ran around a lot.

Saka – 5

Can’t fault his effort, but nothing came off.

Willian – 2

A truly awful performance. Villa’s first goal came from Willian passing to a Villa player while not under any pressure. He gave away possession time after time and had zero impact as an attacking force. Has he been sent by Chelsea as a sleeper agent to help destroy us from within?

Lacazette – 3

He has a difficult role in this set-up, but he missed our best chance of the game.

Aubameyang – 4

Unable to influence the game from his exile out in the wild west.


Ceballos – 5

I felt Dani tried, but could not make any impression given the overall lacklustre nature of our team performance. He played a couple of nice through balls that came to nothing.

Pepe – 5

Was an improvement on Willian, but my Gran would have been an improvement on Willian and she’s dead.

Nketiah – 4

Didn’t get much of a look in.



25 Responses to Gunners Vilified While Villa Thrive: Report & Player Ratings

  1. Gööner In Exile says:

    Has been interesting reading the comments as someone who didn’t watch the game, and then how quickly we move on to managerial options, key takeaways for me:

    The club has been damaged by administrators more than managers. The control on transfers/contracts were wrested from Arsene Wenger in about 2016 and suddenly there were those above Arsene or in between him and Kroenke/Gazidis disrupting his control. Xhaka and Mustafi arrived that summer, was also the summer we sold the “failed” Wenger project Gnabry. In 17/18 we spent £134m on PEA, Laca and Mikhytarian, with an average age of 28.

    Very unArsenal like signings given our preferred option of buying young and improving previously.

    When Arsene went Gazidis swiftly followed having completed the signing of Emery, whether he saw it as a completion of his work, or realised that suddenly the buck stopped with him he was long gone before any fall out. He didn’t take the gamble on Arteta then.

    Gazidis has managed to avoid much criticism in the fallout post Wenger and mainly because he is no longer with us, but his role in the implementation of a football management structure should be seriously questioned.

    I would have taken Arteta when Arsene left, as I think he wouldn’t have had the battle of reversing the malaise brought in by Emery.

    Arsenes teams were always attacking and yes we suffered the odd reverse to the lower/mid table sides as they unpicked our defence on the counter and formed an impenetrable wall. But in the main the only issues were beating our fellow top 4 sides and Spuds flukeing Harry Kane in to their starting line up and making them good.

    So where do we go from here?

    Mikel has time, more time than most new managers, why? Because the board don’t have to listen to boos ringing out around the Emirates on performances like yesterday, we all look at the starting line up and think it is good enough to win, perhaps it’s time to properly assess some of these players, our attacking three cost £180m (Pepe, Laca and PEA), but the best of the bunch appears to be one from our own ranks Saka.

    How much time should Arteta have to spend on making players that cost that much money tick and be effective?

  2. Gööner In Exile says:

    My comment was written mainly in yesterday’s post so hadn’t read yours Rocky when I moved it here.

    Seem you value a bit more attacking and risk as I do.

    It’s time to accept as Arsenal fans that we take three steps back to go forward and if that means selling our stars or letting them go at end of contract then so be it.

    Too many decisions are based on financial contracts rather than football. In no football sense was it the right thing to let Martinez go at end of last season, Leno is now unchallenged he would have known Martinez was good enough in training everyday and it kept him on his toes previously, now it is his shirt. And the club needed cash, and my guess is the one with the longer contract stayed.

  3. Sue says:

    It’s now been six hours and 26 minutes since Arsenal last scored a goal from open play in the Premier League…

  4. RockyLives says:

    Thoughtful comments as ever GiE

    I feel you are definitely on to something with aiming your ire at the administrative side of the club.

    I have little doubt (although no evidence) that some of our recent transfers were done to feather certain people’s personal bank accounts rather than for the good of Arsenal

    The only thing I would take issue with is that we surely cannot be writing off Auba. It’s not that long ago that he was clinching us a Cup Final place and then a Cup Final trophy.

    He is one of the best strikers in the world yet, as Sue’s statistic shows, we are nowhere near to using him properly.

  5. Sue says:

    Ollie Watkins is a gooner!!! A hat trick against Liverpool and a brace against the team he supports!! Not a bad start to life in the PL…
    He even said “That’s the dream, to play for Arsenal one day. But you know, it’s a long shot”

  6. RockyLives says:

    Also, regarding ‘keepers, I think the problem was that Martinez suddenly saw the opportunity to secure his financial future by becoming a Number One keeper somewhere (and who can blame him?) so I don’t think we could have kept both him and Leno.

    Emi was not prepared to be second string any more or even to stay on the basis of “battling it out to be number one.”

    Whether we made the right decision is a matter of opinion. Your suspicion about contract length may well have come into play…

  7. RockyLives says:

    Sign him up!

  8. Gööner In Exile says:

    Hi Rocky, I am not writing off PEA by any stretch of the imagination, but I am questioning the rush to secure him on a three year contract that keeps him with us until he is 34/35 depending on if the three years starts at end of last deal or when he signed.

    I think that’s my issue, and there comes to the point that doesn’t matter how sharp the blade is if there is no handle to wield the sword then it’s worthless.

    And sadly that’s the issue at the moment we have an attack which should be much better but haven’t found the route to getting the ball to them effectively.

    The big games against top sides like Liverpool, City etc we have the chance with long balls of exposing their high line and our attacking trio have space to work, but we don’t play those sides every week. And we have to come up with solutions for the sides that will not give us freedom in behind.

  9. Pete the Thirst says:

    The team didn’t turn up yesterday did it? Still on the team coach somewhere on the M1. That’s the first time this season that the team hasn’t put the effort in for Arteta. A bit worrying.

    I was never keen on Willian. Another in a long line of Chelsea rejects we have signed. He was meant to bring professionalism to the side. Yesterday blew that idea.

    Lacazette has been coasting for a year. Missing good chances. He needs to be benched. Unfortunately Nketiah isn’t good enough to lead the line. Change of formation needed to bring PEA into play more.

    Last mud sling. Bellerin was poor for 2 goals yesterday. Out of position, pushed off the ball too easily by Grealish. I know in a back 3 he is meant to attack more and defend less but his main efforts seemed to be pointing at players that he couldn’t be bothered to mark. He set the tone for passive defence all game,

    2 steps forward 2 back.

  10. Gööner In Exile says:

    Re the keepers hate to say that there was likely an accountant involved.

    Leno purchased for £22.5m 5 year deal value on balance sheet £12m, Martinez purchased for £0.

    Martinez sale put £20m profit on transfer dealings, assuming Leno was a similar value we would only have made transfer Profit of £8-10m.

    Whilst that may be on paper with the £22m having previously been spent, it will still effect how the club finances looks on the balance sheet and probably a set of rules on balancing up our spend against income from transfers.

  11. Pete the Thirst says:

    @GIE Gazidis is directly in my sights. He put the fools in place that have cost us 2 seasons of muddling and outright fraudulent dealings.

    But to let Wenger off the hook about the Xhaka & Mustafi signings is wide of the mark. They were his signings along with Ozil & Kolasinac.

    Gazidis was employed by Wenger. He had little influence over his decisions. He couldn’t sack Wenger. He was a slick PR man and he did well to keep his job for 10 years.

  12. LB says:

    I don’t really follow England that closely but I am surprised to read that Grealish is not……. well, first name on the team sheet.

    For me the principle problem was the area patrolled by Holding and Bellerin, all the Villa goals came from this part of the pitch, Grealish ran rings round that pair and was instrumental in each of their goals.

    It would not surprise me to see Luiz and Soares replacing those two in our next EPL game.

  13. RA says:

    Great Post, Rocky,

    If you had needed an assistant I would have volunteered, but would have become redundant as that was what I like to imagine I would have written too.

    Let’s get to it from this blogger’s perspective.

    There are no excuses, either for the players or the manager!

    The defence was a shocking wasteland of indecision, hesitation, and let us be honest — the attack were pretty much invisible, and when they shook themselves out of their torpor it was only to be shrugged off the ball, or miss passed it or ….. disappeared back into their own miasma of incompetent footballing flatulence.

    Whatever happened to the heroes who clobbered Manure? Was it a bit too wet? Did rain get in their eyes or spoil their hairdo?

    Rocky, you and GIE have had your say and I agree with you both — but for all the wishful thinking and attempt to be supportive to both Auba and Laca, they are just not good enough to play together.
    Auba especially has been a huge disappointment for some weeks, and can be chameleon-like, managing to disappear even in the opposite penalty area.

    Arteta also said that ‘I did not like it (the way we played) from the first minute, and we have to find out why there was no spirit — but it was buy fault’ — and I might be able to help him there.

    Arteta — you must learn that this passing out from the GK to the defence is not likely to do anything but help the opposition on a soggy, wet, slippy surface, with players lacking the confidence in receiving and controlling the ball in case they fell over —– and then they fell over!!

    If you, Arteta, were a general fighting in a skirmish, you would not gift the other side the ground you are defending. You would want to fight on their land — let them make mistakes where it will hurt them, and if the conditions allowed an occasional unexpected richochet to cause confusion and panic, let it be in front of their defences.

    Don’t allow them to boss our half

    The best thing you could have done last night, which could have changed the result of the game, was to forget the tippy tappy playing out from the back, and either tell the midfield and forwards to use speed to get into the Villa half, and mix that up with long balls into our forwards. A heavy, spinning, long-ball can cause havoc for even skilful players trying to control it, especially if Arsenal players launched into tackles on the Villa defence when why they were trying to do so.

    Don’t allow them to boss our half

    No fan can be happy with a gutless, incompetent charade like last night’s performance by Arsenal, and if the ‘playing from the back’ against a team that is playing superbly, like Villa, is not working, change tactic immediately.

    And sort out the Özil business — we had no creativity, no sharp defence splitting passes and that made us a shambles. we need Mesut, or someone equally proficient.

    You can put things right, Mikel, but losing the fans in a way reminiscent of Emery’s era can soon snowball into open condemnation.

  14. kfdickie says:

    Just an overall observation. We play better against teams that concentrate on their game, not ours. When a ‘lower’ team play us, at the moment they can stop us playing. And why wasn’t AMN put on to stop Grealish? That would have stopped 50% of their play.

  15. LBG says:

    Thanks Rocky
    We have the best basis of a solid defence to build on for the last 10 years, IMO.

    “More attacking and risk”….. with yoof, please.
    Please select Eddie, Saka ……and Smith-Rowe and Martinelli as soon as possible and play them consistently in “important” games. Play 4231, and IF Aubang is still the man play him centrally.

    Cant believe anyone giving up on Mikel (although to read other sites!). Time and patience required for a man who, unlike Wenger, will try something different to find the right player formula. God speed internationals and please come back unscathed.

  16. Pete the Thirst says:


    ‘And sort out the Özil business — we had no creativity, no sharp defence splitting passes and that made us a shambles. we need Mesut, or someone equally proficient.’

    He has sorted out the Ozil business, he’s playing with the youth team until he retires when his contract runs out in the summer. The less trouble he can cause the better.

    A change in formation would help us. Bring more players into midfieild. Play a back 4 and drop a forward back.

  17. RockyLives says:

    Excellent discussion.

    Here’s a thought… probably bonkers but…

    Is there a chance some of our players were “saving themselves” for their international games (hoping not to get injured)?

    Bellerin, for example, has just had a Spain call-up.

  18. RockyLives says:


    I was going to use the phrase “should be the first name on the England team sheet” about Grealish, but then I decided that technically the first name is still the N17 mouth breather.

    Nevertheless, Grealish is exactly the sort of gifted genius who often gets overlooked by lumpen English national team managers. We have a long history of it as a nation.

  19. kfdickie says:


  20. RC78 says:

    Gazidis left a mess and appointed Emery. Emery is a very good tactical coach and I could understand the appeal but Emery had just come off a very difficult time in Paris where he clearly demonstrated that he could not improve a winning team and could not connect with players so in a way, it would have been wiser to bet on Arteta or Blanc back then…

    In any case, we have to improve on our consistency as a team and some players really need to up their level ASAP.

    Let us say that we keep a back 3 so our team can basically be broken down into 3 main streams:

    Right stream: RCB, RWB, RFW
    Middle stream: CB, DM, CM, CFW
    Left stream: LCB, LWB, LFW

    At the moment, we have:
    Right St: Holding, Bellerin, Willian
    Middle ST: Gabriel, Partey, El Neny, Laca
    Left St: Tierney, Saka, Auba

    Right St:
    I totally agree with the analysis above that our Right stream was weak and has been the weakest link this season so far. This is why we need Luiz back in the fold although he is not the greatest defender. This would allow us to play him in the 3-man defense with Gabriel and one more player (who?). Bellerin has been very inconsistent – sometimes amazing and sometimes abysmal. Should AMN be given a shot? Why not? As for the RFW, I think we now have to give a chance to Nelson just to frustrate Willian and Pepe – maybe that s what they need to up their game and Nelson has been very energetic when on the pitch, so why not?

    Middle ST:
    I think we cannot argue that Gabriel, Partey and El Neny have played OKish despite lack of creativity and that Laca shows great spirit but not enough goals so why not play Auba there?

    Left ST:
    I think we could play Tierney up the pitch as LWB and Saka as our LFW.

    So is our best line-up the following:
    Leno – ?, Luiz, Gabriel – AMN, Partey, El Neny, Tierney – Nelson, Auba, Saka

    For the last defender, we don’t necessarily want to see Mustafi back in the mix so who do we play there? Try Xhaka as a CB? Play Mari once he is back? Give Saliba a chance as of January?

    Also, I want to pinpoint to 2 players that do not play for us but that I thought would have helped us out tremendously this year:
    1. Fofana who is excelling at Leicester in a 3-man defense;
    2. Grealish who has his ups and downs but is a very creative and hard-working player.
    Shame we did not pursure them fully this summer as both of them were available…Imagine:

    Leno – FOFANA, Luiz, Gabriel – AMN, Partey, El Neny, Tierney – GREALISH, Auba, Saka

    Runnarsson – Holding, Saliba, Mari – Bellerin, Ceba, Xhaka, Kola – Pepe, Laca, Martinelli

    + Cedric, Willock, Nelsson, Nketiah,

  21. jjgsol says:

    If Arteta saw the problem form the first minute, why did he do nothing about it, even at half-time?

    It is to as though he is not barking out instructions for the full 90 minutes.

    So Villa employs 2 attacking midfielders with great results and we employ none and see where we are?

    Whilst so many of you dream that we are better than we are, you simply won’t see the truth.

    We beat Manure with a penalty in a match when we had less of the ball, had less shots both at all and also on target and less corners.

    We dod not dominate, we were just marginally better than another poor team, but only because we scored a penalty.

    We have had not one single decent performance all season, even against teams that might struggle in the National League.

    I simply can’t understand why so many people are talking as if we were some great team waiting in the wings to charge up the table to the top 4.

    Please, please, look at what your eyes tell you, not your hearts.

  22. LB says:

    Very good point kf on AMN and Grealish.

  23. fatgingergooner says:

    Bellerin Luiz Gabriel Tierney
    Willock Partey Ceballos
    Martinelli Saka

    I’d love to see something along these lines moving forward. Martinelli and Saka are both capable of doing the dirty work so there is no reason it should weaken us defensively. Loads of running, loads of energy and loads of attacking intent.

  24. Aaron says:

    Not much needs to be said that has not already.

    Youth, change of formation, get Auba the damn ball, and either compress space up top or play man to man D tightly, and I mean F’n tight, and hit on the counter.
    Press, press, press to get the ball back high up the pitch, and someone other than Saka needs to dribble the ball forward into space directly.
    Want some athletes on the pitch, none of this gassing at the 50 minute mark and allowed to stay on the pitch for 20 minutes more garbage.

    Someone on another site also pointed out Mikel’s dilemma, Elneny is good out of possession and Xhaka in, but not reversed, and the team needs someone who can do both not named Partey, as he needs a compliment.

    Mikel- you got 2 weeks to get Auba some shots on target or it will be an ugly 4 games on the trot.

  25. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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