*It’s your lucky (or unlucky!) day today: not one match report from AA but two. You can find RC’s report (first posted last night) here: https://arsenalarsenal.net/2021/02/06/saving-private-arsenal and here’s the second one…
An old disease has returned to haunt Arsenal.
In the later Arsene Wenger period, through most of Unai Emery’s reign and on occasion during the Mikel Arteta era we have suffered from the virus of self destructiveness.
We don’t need opponents in order to lose games: we’re perfectly capable of losing them all on our own.
The symptoms of this disease include mystifying defensive mix-ups, an abundance of red cards and penalties conceded, suicidal goalkeeping and own goals.
In our good run of form since Christmas I had allowed myself to believe that we were finally shaking off the ailment; that whatever treatment had been stumbled upon by Arteta and his assistants was beginning to work.
Alas it was a false dawn.
In the last two games we have lost twice because we were outplayed by Arsenal. At Wolves Arsenal beat us by giving away an unnecessary penalty and reducing our ranks to first 10, then nine men. Yesterday at Aston Villa Arsenal beat us by gifting the opposition a goal in the opening two minutes.
We’ve seen it all before, of course, you know the type of thing: bad defending that leaves our centre backs flat footed as an opposition striker bears down on goal, forcing the former to rugby tackle the latter; miscommunications of the “After you, Claude” variety where two of our players inexplicably agree to let an opponent walk between them and take the ball; always managing to get a vital toe on the ball when it’s heading towards goal (vital for the opposition, that is, in order to deflect it past our ‘keeper).
Please can Pfizer, or AstraZeneca or Moderna or Johnson & Johnson come up with a vaccination that immunises against self-inflicted stupidity?
I was really looking forward to yesterday’s game, but once we gifted a goal to Villa my heart sank. We really pick our moments, don’t we? Here it was the opening minute so that we get the energy sucked out of us before we’ve even started; at Wolves it was a few seconds before half time when we looked to be going in one up, then immediately after the restart so that whatever we’d planned at half time went straight out the window…
It makes me wonder why we keep pressing the self destruct button. The best teams don’t do it (or they do it so rarely that it’s an aberration, not a case of ‘here we go again’).
Are we lacking a Tony Adams to pin players up against the wall of the dressing room after the match and warn them that if they ever do that again they will be needing a visit to the dentist? Do we need a psychology coach to help our players concentrate better? What is it?
It’s not as if we didn’t start with an exciting line-up yesterday. Apart from the absences of Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno we had arguably our strongest possible team out.
And if KT had been there I doubt we would have conceded the Villa goal. Cedric, a right footer playing left back, tried to cushion a pass back towards Gabriel, whom he’d seen start to move towards him. For some reason Gabriel changed his mind and moved away so that Cedric’s pass failed to reach him and Traore nipped in and collected the ball for Villa.
I’m not sure who was more at fault out of the two of them, but it was certainly a Classic Arsenal Miscommunication ™ in the time-honoured tradition.
The only thing you can say for conceding so early is that you have plenty of time to put the damage right but, as I’ve mentioned, the Villa goal seemed to discombobulate us. Whatever instructions the players had had drummed into their heads pre-game were immediately rendered redundant.
As the first half wore on we got into the game and occasionally threatened but, as El Patron pointed out afterwards, our decision making in and around the box was extremely poor. I thought Pepe in particular had a frustrating game: he was doing lots of good things to create dangerous situations but invariably fluffed his lines at the crucial moment (shooting when he should have passed, passing when he should have shot, running into defenders and losing the ball, over-hitting crosses). And don’t me get started on our dead ball situations.
Elsewhere on the pitch we were misplacing a lot of passes (even booting the ball straight out for throw-ins on at least three occasions that I can recall, two of them by Thomas Partey).
To their credit Villa defended very well and always looked dangerous on the break with Grealish, Barkley and Watkins.
Our best chance to share the points came from a Xhaka free kick which was beautifully placed into the top corner of the goal… and was brilliantly saved by our FA Cup hero Martinez (naturally). It looked to me like one of those shots that, had it gone in, would have been described by the commentators as unstoppable. But our old back-up custodian stopped it.
At the other end Mat Ryan, on his debut, had a very decent outing. He had no chance with the Villa goal because of an unlucky deflection off Holding, but he made several good stops and seems to have a knack for getting distance on the ball when he pushes it away (Leno please note).
Aubameyang replaced Lacazette for a half-hour of complete anonymity; Odegaard came on for Cedric on 65 minutes and for reasons known only to himself, Arteta brought on Willian when Partey went off injured with a quarter of an hour to go. Why not bring on Martinelli, who at least tries? Willian’s first contribution was to get to the by line and put the ball out for a Villa goal kick. Thereafter he did his usual trick of probing with the ball for a while before passing backwards.
I never thought we would score and we didn’t. We should have had at least four points from the week just gone, instead we have none.
Bring on the vaccination.
Ryan – 7
One of the few bright spots. Made some good saves, displayed fast, accurate distribution skills and came out well for a cross at one point. Looked solid.
Bellerin – 5
Hector got forward a lot but lost possession carelessly too many times and did not seem on the same wavelength as Saka and Smith Rowe. His defending was reasonably good but he has to be better when helping the attack.
Holding – 5.5
Probably should have got closer to Watkins for the Villa goal and made some careless errors. Not up to his own recent standard.
Gabriel – 5.5
At least partially at fault for the goal, but competed reasonably well thereafter.
Cedric – 5
On his wrong side again, but he shares the blame for the Villa goal and was uncharacteristically sloppy with his passing.
Xhaka – 6.5
One of our better performers. Always looks good on the ball and tried to get us moving forward.
Partey – 6
Bit of an in-and-out game for Thomas. Some wildly mis-hit passes, but also some strong play in the middle of the park until pulling up with injury. Let’s hope it’s not too serious.
Saka – 7
Singled out for brutal rotational fouling by the Villa players and given very little protection by a weak referee, but Bukayo got up from every foul and got straight back into the action. He tried really hard and was part of our best moves, but couldn’t find a way through the Villa defence.
Smith Rowe – 7
We saw plenty of his lovely movement, control, interplay and passing. Had a decent chance that was blocked in the six yard box. A more experienced player would probably have gone down for a penalty as he was being fouled.
Pepe – 6
Plenty of effort and some good skill, but frustrating lack of end product.
Lacazette – 5.5
Seemed a bit lower energy than usual.
Aubameyang – 3
Might as well not have bothered. His only real contribution was to play a beautifully cushioned pass into an attacking player who nearly scored. The problem was the attacking player was wearing claret and blue and he nearly scored for Villa. Whatever is going on with Auba needs to be sorted out or he needs to be kept away from the team.
Odegaard – 5.5
Looked slick on the ball and showed signs of linking up well with Smith Rowe and Saka. Had a good chance but blasted his shot over the bar. Nevertheless, it will be good to see more of him.
Willian – 4
More involved than the invisible Auba, but another immensely frustrating cameo. In a situation like this, where we are chasing a game, it surely has to be Martinelli every time. Even Nketiah. Willian currently offers nothing.