What a result! Tough game, battling performance, well-earned points. Not vintage but victorious nonetheless.
I was surprised to see Coquelin in the starting line-up at Right Back as Arsene has said in the past the youngster doesn’t isn’t suited to the role. Perhaps it was due to Miquel’s errors at City. Did Wenger expect N’Zogbia to play on the left and feel the Spaniard would struggle against him? Whatever the reason, Arsenal had two young players in defensive positions and that gave Villa a good chance.
In the first half, the Gunners controlled a lot of the ball but most of the attacking moves were coming from the hosts. A number of balls flashed across the Arsenal box as the visitors struggled to defend their flanks. But the fact that Villa didn’t have any other attacking options except this ultra-low percentage wing-play meant that Szczesny wasn’t seriously troubled in goal. Only one save from a header from Agbonlahor comes to mind.
Arsenal’s defence also deserves credit for their tackling/pressure in the box which meant Villa didn’t get any free shots on goal. For instance, Ramsey did superbly to thwart Agbonlahor in the 11th minute when the hosts broke forward from an Arsenal corner. There were a number of other blocks/clearances/interceptions from the Gunners that protected Szczesny and the goal behind him.
Tactically, Arsenal were struggling to cover the flanks and the overall defensive shape wasn’t very good but the players made it harder for the hosts in front of goal.
Arsenal’s opener came against the run of play to an extent. Villa’s goal hadn’t been threatened by the 17th minute. Walcott deserves credit for his quick thinking and nifty footwork that allowed him to beat Clark and get into the box. The Villa midfielder pulled Theo back quite blatantly and there could be no arguments about the penalty that Van Persie smashed high into the net.
A minute later Arsenal had another great chance as De Kapitein put Theo through. Walcott’s early lob was deflected away by the onrushing Keeper’s shoulder. That was the first time the Gunners got in behind Villa who were playing a relatively high line.
After the goal Villa pushed forward but their goal-threat was limited to crosses and shots from distance. Wenger’s men were holding firm.
At the other end Arsenal got a couple of excellent chances but Ramsey produced a disappointing finish and a poor through-ball. First, in the 32nd minute, one-touch play from Gervinho and RvP, put Ramsey clear on goal. Dunne was coming in to tackle and Walcott was free on the right. The Welshman went for power but skewed it wide. I thought it was a very tough shot to execute as he was running at full pelt and had to stretch in the final stride to get the shot away. A better choice might have been to play it towards Theo or even to take a touch as Dunne was the only defender near him. At such a pace though, it’s tough to criticize the player as we see such misses all the time. Of course, that doesn’t mean one cannot expect better.
The other miss came from an overhit pass from Ramsey when Gervinho would have been clean through if the ball had the right weight. Again I thought the youngster rushed his pass as he was under pressure.
Arsenal went into the break ahead but you could see Villa were in with a chance as they were getting into dangerous positions.
The hosts started the second half with a higher press and put Wenger’s side under pressure. Song was being sorely missed but Arsenal were holding on. The goal, when it came in the 54th minute, was bit of an anti-climax after all the hard work in defence. Koscielny went to duel for a long ball but it skimmed of his head. Vermaelen was well positioned behind him and should have dealt with it. Instead he made the wrong choice and played it towards Mertesacker. The header lacked pace and Albrighton was able to sneak in between the two before slotting through the legs of Szczesny.
Vermaelen should either have headed the ball forward or out on the left. That would have given Arsenal enough time to regain the defensive shape. By playing it towards the German without any pace on it, he virtually gifted the chance to the Villa winger. Mertesacker was in a very risky position as a challenge could have led to a straight red or, at the very least, a second yellow. Szczesny again conceded between his legs. That is a technical weakness in his style that I have pointed out before. Someone in the coaching staff will have to identify it and work on it.
A minute later Walcott was running into the Villa box and won a corner from a sliding tackle by Dunne. Mertesacker forced a save from the resulting set-piece as he pounced on a loose ball.
For a while the game was about all the corners that Arsenal were winning and the crosses that Villa were getting into the box from wide areas. Both sides failed to seriously test the Keeper.
Arsene introduced Rosicky for Frimpong in the 65th minute. Little Mozart brought better movement and passing to the field an linked up well with the attackers. Arshavin and Benayoun came on for Gervinho and Ramsey with just around 10 minutes left.
Arsenal were able to sustain a spell of pressure. First it was Rosicky who had a shot blocked for a corner. Then it was Arshavin. Arsenal finally got the winner from one such corner after Benayoun was afforded a free header in the six-yard box. The Israeli did well to keep his eye on the ball and placed it well between the Keeper and the man on the post.
Arsenal held on to the ball and defended the lead relatively easily as Villa still couldn’t produce anything except more crosses into the box. An astute observer might say they lacked a plan B.
This was a game that could easily have been lost but the players deserve credit for fighting and winning. It was far from ideal but the circumstances weren’t favouring the Gunners either. The problems with the defending the flanks are a matter for another day.
I enjoyed these tweets from the players at the end of the game. Shows they have a great spirit and know what’s going on.
Important win I’m so happy finally to score in the league after long time..this goal is for thomas vermaelen!!
Great win today! I wasn t easy. Thanks to @YossiBenayoun15!! U saved me today mate!
@YossiBenayoun15 saved the day!great header!Had to dig a result out tonight.Fans kept us going!Disappointing game personally but big 3point
Szczesny: Did well to hold on to the crosses under pressure. Some of his distribution was rushed and can do with more composure, especially when the team is under pressure. Should work on his technique to avoid leaving such a big gap between his legs.
Coquelin: Struggled against the skills of N’Zogbia, which is understandable. Positioning was decent, tenacity heart-warming. Wasn’t able to help in bringing the ball out as much as regular full-backs would have done. Only attempted 27 passes when all other defenders managed more than double that. 6/9 in tackles, 15/22 in ground duels, and 2/2 in aerial duels.
Mertesacker: I don’t blame him at all for the goal. Had a very good game in the box and read dangerous situations intelligently. Made the most interceptions – 4. Won a lot of high balls around the centre of the pitch.
Koscielny: Superb game in and around the box. Got in the way of a number of crosses. Joint most touches and was composed on the ball. 2/3 in tackles, 7/9 in ground duels, 4/6 in aerial duels.
Vermaelen: Very bad decision and weak header for the goal. Very good game apart from that. 2/2 tackles, 6/8 in GD, 2/2 in AD. Sometimes shows his lack of understanding of the role and can’t contribute as much in attack but that’s a problem due to lack of experience in the position.
The defence was under pressure in this game as the cover for them wasn’t as good. Moreover, Coquelin was out of position and against a very tricky player. Vermaelen too wasn’t always certain with his positioning/decision making on the wing. It’s good to see the team can work hard defensively despite the issues.
Frimpong: Wasn’t able to receive, hold, or pass the ball under pressure. Many of his touches/passes were either heavy or hesitant. Positioning was poor. Seemed really out of his depth in this game.
Ramsey: As he said himself and I noted in the two attacking instances above, Ramsey was disappointing. But I also got the feeling he was doing the work of a player and half due to Frimpong’s weaknesses and Arsenal’s difficulty in bringing the ball forward. Was 1/8 in ground duels, has to do much better there.
Arteta: Another massive game and another MotM I’d say. Made the most passes with the highest accuracy and joint highest touches. Was always there to support the defence and was instrumental in sustaining possession at key moments.
Song absence had a noticeable impact. Frimpong just didn’t get into the kind of defensive positions his senior partner regular gets into. The youngster also wasn’t comfortable under pressure and his decision making wasn’t very good. This meant Ramsey had to move up and down a lot more. Without Arteta in midfield this game could easily have become a repeat of the Olympiacos one.
Walcott: Good skill to win the penalty. Also won a number of corners. Had a good chance one-v-one and he took it early. I don’t blame him for missing that but taking it around is also an option. Sometimes I feel he’s too focussed on early shots/crosses.
RvP: Composed and well-directed penalty. Excellent work rate and created the most number of chances. Corner deliveries were good and picked up an assist from one.
Gervinho: Wasn’t able to beat Hutton despite a number of chances to run at the defender. 1/5 in dribble attempts. Had very little impact in attack in general. Played parts of the game as an auxiliary left back and deserves credit for the effort put in.
Arsenal’s struggles to bring the ball out meant that the wide players didn’t receive as much service as they’d have liked. Wenger wasn’t able to make tactical adjustments to use the pace of his wingers even when Villa were pushing high up. That’s a long standing issue and there are some visible efforts being put in but Arsenal have to learn to use their pace intelligently when a team like Villa is chasing the game.
Subs: Rosicky was impressive on the ball and looked lively. His touches and passes oozed class. Benayoun got the all important goal showing classic poacher’s instincts. Arshavin had one good strike on goal and was moving around the pitch as if he wanted to make a difference.
Wenger: It’s understandable that a side so severely depleted by injuries will have one or two players out of position and that will result in a few anxious moments. But the manager will have to find a way to cover the weaknesses better and use the strengths more. Right now, when Arsenal can’t bring the ball out as well, they are forced into playing it around at the back. It still adds up to the possession and passing stats but the wide players are taken out of the game and the attacking impetus is non-existent. More pre-determined moves can help in such cases. Bringing Van Persie into midfield and releasing Theo in the centre is also an option.
A draw or win for Tottenham against Chelsea will keep Arsenal very close to fourth.