Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Aston Villa

Recently, many of us have read and talked a lot about this season producing Arsenal’s worst start to a Premier League campaign. But when I read that this was Aston Villa’s worst start to a League season since 1964/65, it put things in a whole new perspective. Of course, such historical comparisons rarely paint the complete picture. Even though the Villans have only 9 points from 12 games and despite only two teams conceding more goals than them, I find there’s more to admire about their side than to criticize.

At the very core, there seems to be this shift – much needed, dare I say – in policy with young players being given a lot more chances. If clubs at Villa’s income levels have to have realistic chances of competing against the bigger earners, they absolutely must have a very strong youth system. Over the years I’ve felt – although I’ve only seen from distance and neither as constantly, nor with anywhere near the same degree of involvement as I have with the Arsenal games – Aston Villa could have gotten more value for the money they’ve invested if they had the right managers in charge.

Finally, in Lambert, Aston Villa seem to have a man with the right vision and approach towards the game, which could, given time, translate into success on the pitch. It’s a process though, unless you can afford to make numerous £20 Million plus mistakes in the market without flinching, building a squad, and therefore a club’s future, takes a fair amount of time.

So the Gunners are going to come up against a fairly young and relatively inexperienced (at the Premier League level) Aston Villa squad. I believe in games against such sides it’s prudent to expect the unexpected. On a given day, these players might forget their position in the table or the stakes at the end of the season, and go out with a fearless heart to express their talents in a manner that catches the more seasoned opponents off-guard. It almost happened to United.

In contrast, there’s also the risk that inexperienced players will make some of those seemingly minor errors in judgment or execution that can cost the team vital goals and points. Unfortunately, and despite any manager’s best efforts, this happens more often than the triumph of youthful exuberance. Anyone who’s watched Arsenal over the last few seasons will have no problems understanding this, and by extension Aston Villa’s current predicament.

That said, it would be foolhardy for the Gunners to rely on mistakes from their opponents. They’ve to go out there and establish their right to play in the manner that suits them. For that, a midfield battle has to be won. It might not be as hard as it was against some of the other teams. Bannan and Co. don’t have the combination of physical presence, endurance, and pace that makes it possible for teams to close the Gunners down in order to negate a high tempo. If Arsenal move the ball as well as they did against Montpellier, particularly after the opening 20 odd minutes, they should take charge of the central third of the pitch.

After that it’s about breaking down a well-organized and determined opponent while covering the open spaces at the back against the threat of counter-attacks.

Christian Benteke can be a big player for Villa as he has shown the ability to run with the ball, pull out wide or – in general – to make space for himself in order to be an outlet for his team when they’ve been pushed back, and hold up play to allow others to join in the attack. In support, Villa have players who provide pace and intelligent movement in the attacking areas, particularly when they have space to run into.

At times, and not just in this season, I’ve felt that the Arsenal defenders aren’t quite sure with their decision making when faced with a mobile striker. For instance, in the build-up to the Adebayor goal, Mertesacker went with Defore and got turned with ease. Minutes later he stayed back and Defoe was able to receive the ball between the lines while facing the Arsenal goal. This led to Lennon’s shot which went wide. This indecision isn’t just limited to Mertesacker, every single central defender who’s played for Arsenal over the last few seasons has occasionally been unsure of the best course of action at certain vital moments that shaped the opponents attacks.

This battle between Benteke and the visiting central defenders should mould the key patterns of play from Arsenal’s defensive point of view.

In this game, Aston Villa’s threat on the counter will be greater than that posed by Montpellier and the Gunners cannot afford to allow them to get into the kind of promising positions that the French side managed early on in that Champions League tie. In short, Arsenal must not be sloppy on the ball or static off it. Wenger’s team should be patient but not ponderous, calculating but not complacent, and decisive when it matters not dawdling.

At the other end, I’m confident Arsenal will get chances to score as long as they can move the ball at pace. They absolutely have to push Villa back into their defensive third, after which spaces will open up in the wider areas and also in front of the back four as the hosts’ midfield isn’t exactly a paragon of defence. Giroud, in particular, can again be decisive.

Ideally, this should also be the kind of game where Arsene can rest a couple of players. Given that Villa have a young team of their own, this might be an opportune time to give Coquelin a start. Any of the three starters in midfield could take a break for different reasons. Arteta has given a lot this season. Cazorla has probably never played at this intensity on a weekly basis before. And Wilshere is just coming back from a major injury-enforced break. All of them could use a break so that they don’t burn out by the home stretch.

Similarly, either Podolski or Giroud could take a break while Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain get a game. At the back, the return of Gibbs could give Wenger the chance to rest one of his centre-backs. Jenkinson could also come in for Sagna.

Let’s not forget, Arsenal have a big game at Merseyside in midweek that will have an impact on the race for the Champions League spots.

You could say that many changes by the manager would give the squad an indication that he’s thinking of this game as an easy one, a suggestion that could foster complacency. But I’m not convinced by that argument. Players like Coquelin, Jenkinson, and Oxlade-Chamberlain have to show that they can come in and do the job. How else can we believe in squad depth? And why should we assume the players will become complacent when they’ve so much to prove?

Looking at Wenger’s team selection decisions over the last few seasons though, it’s tough to say the manager will make too many changes. I expect to see the same midfield but there might be a couple of changes in attack and defence combined. It’ll depend on the fitness levels of Gibbs and Gervinho.

We might see,

Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere – Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski.

I can see the case for Oxlade-Chamberlain being picked over Gervinho or, as stated earlier, both of them starting with perhaps Podolski taking a break. Aston Villa have highly inexperienced full-backs and one would expect Arsenal’s wide players to have a major say in the attacking third of the pitch. This could be a great opportunity for young Alex, particularly if Stevens doesn’t get enough support from his winger (Agbonlahor?). Let’s see if Wenger thinks the same and gives the young Englishman his chance.

Paul Lambert is banned from the touchline for this fixture. How big an impact will that have on the game/result?

The match preview on the official website has an unmistakeable ultra-positive tone, which some might consider premature. Lee Dixon doesn’t think Arsenal will win this game. I am ambivalent. The starting line-up, refereeing decisions, the dreaded handbrake, individual bloopers… there’s just too many variables that could affect the result.

On an unrelated but important note, what’s the buzz on Arsenal’s new deal with Emirates? I haven’t had a chance to read much about it, will appreciate any thoughts you can share.

19 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Aston Villa

  1. 9jagunnerdoc says:

    Hi DG

    I do not think we’re much better off than Villa experience wise. Check out your starting line up, see that only three players have played three or more years in the Premier League.

    That sure won’t frighten them Villans. That’s one of the things missing in our team. Every team fancies a chance against us.

    I’d take any kind of win. A clean sheet will be a plus.

  2. T2T says:

    I would like to see Arshavin in Cazorla’s role. Gibbs and Jenkinson as full backs. Vermaelen and Koscielny as CBs. Midfield of , Wilshere and Arshavin. Podolski, Giroud and Gervinho. Subs: Mannone, Sagna, Mertesacker, Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla, AOC

    Ramsey seems to have his best games when he comes on as a sub.

    • Hard Ogura says:

      Its a good idea but mind you we have been having a poor run before the last two games ( actually, even the last two have not been as sweet as we would have expected: spurs if it was not for the red card, were in trouble and Mont game we were lucky we improved in second half) so to make such a dramatic change in a whole line up means taking a risk of getting back to loosing games again when we have a chance to push toa fifthy position as we keep a way from spurs.

  3. Hard Ogura says:

    I don’t know why people always think of quick changes when the team starts to improve? Verm has improved in number 3 and Gibbs is just from treatment table with no match at all. Even Gervi for seven its a waste, he does better on 11. Its such changes of saying its a abc who has been playing that number that triggered bad results a few weeks ago when the whole defence was teempered with with acommodation of Kos and resting of Per and resting of Jenks to acommodate Sagna etc.

    Lets keep the same starting eleven, then we can substitute the Gibbs and Gervin at a later stage of the game for then to start getting used to the real game again other that dropping them at the deep end straight away and demolise the players who have been doing well in those positions.

    Thank you

    • IBK Emmanuelson says:

      i think i very much agree with u,and anytin aside a victory will nt 2 good 4 our boys’ improving morale,so i ll definitely go 4 same line-up with just 2 changes,gervinho coming 4 podolsky,and probably(if d need arises),anybody(aside ramsey) coming in 4 cazorla. Ramsey is better as a sub.

      • Cupsui says:

        I would think a change or two is neccessary but not much.

        I would play gibbs and give merte a rest. And probs rest prinz poldi too and play gervinho…he loves running at inexperienced fullbacks. Otherwise go with the same team. Ramsey is definitely better as a sub.

  4. Akeem Abdulkareem Lanre says:

    Every match is important bcoz it will base on three points if we came out victorious, so why are we resting players from the starting eleven. We can substitute some of them early during the match depending on the scoreline as at that time.

    • Hard Ogura says:

      I fully agree with you Akeem.

      • Cupsui says:

        Rotation is a very important part of managing a team especially when competing in 4 competitions. I don’t believe in wholesale changes but minor rotation is key…

        The only changes i would consider would be gibbsy in (probs rest merte) and Gervinho in to spell poldi who has played and run a lot and has looked tired towards the end of games. I think he will trouble everton too

  5. Induct says:

    Not very much said but its a great read anyway. The Emirate deal in my thinking is just fair to say d least.

  6. Gerry Lennon says:

    You give a nice intro to this match, one the players should take note of?
    The question of resting players is a tricky one ahead of the midweek game against Everton. Do you upset a winning side and risk going to the away match on the back of a poor result? For that reason I will suggest the changes will be minimal. I think Vermaelin will be put on the bench, with Gibbs at LB. If he lasts the full game then TV5 will be fresh to take over from Kos(at CB) on Wednesday. That is if Gibbs comes through this game okay?
    Much as I think Jenks should get a game, I think it will be as sub for AOC or Walcott, whichever of those two starts.
    Likewise Gerv. An early sub for Poldi would be ideal, keeping the latter fresh with only a four day break.
    The midfield is where it is more important maintain stability. However, if we get an early 2 goal lead, Arshavin could give Santi a much needed break, and could put himself in the picture for Wednesday? When he plays at the central hub he can be brilliant?
    So, only one or at most, two chamges, but a very strong bench. No youngsters this time with their Youth Cup tie on Tuesday, although Eisfeld may be overage for that and could be the surprise package?

  7. Spec says:

    No matter what team Wenger puts out though i’d be surprised if make more than 2 changes from the team that started against Montpellier if we play to our powers with the midfield 3 dictating play we should have enough to grab all 3 points.

  8. Mick says:

    Does anyone know what the go with Eisfeld is? Seems he missed the U21’s game. If he is not injured or away on internation U21 duty is he in the first team squad for the Villa game? Wud be great to see him get some minutes

  9. AJ says:

    On the Emirates sponsorship deal:
    On the whole it is 150 million. But includes the stadium naming rights as well which continue till 2028 (!). So the kit deal is said to be 20 million pounds a year, approx, less but not more than that. So it is actually less than the 20-25 million+ deals big teams have with their sponsors just for the kits.

  10. ryan says:

    I like your analysis and read them before the game.
    I think wenger should trust arshavin in this at some point bringing off cazorla for arshavin

  11. Dianjuh says:

    Hey Desi? I see you are in the mood for changes (or rotation if you like), I somehow want a bit of caution. I wrote on your last analysis that the team needs to gel, to avoid the sloppy passes (Montpellier) and miscommunication in defense. Keep the same team and do early substitutions to rest key players would be my way. I deeply feel Arteta and Cazorla badly need a breather (Wilshire needs games so he stays) but it has to be done without risking points – Aston Villa? away? That would be a bit of a risk!

  12. Nick from Portugal says:

    Sorry Desi, much as I agree that Cazorla and Arteta could do with a break I think we have to stick rather than twist on this one, a more proactive use of substitutes can give us the security of a settled side. Mourinho subs at half time, Wenger hardly ever before minute 65. Ramsey came on on Saturday and energised the team, I would look at Ramsey and Coquelin, one perhaps to start and the other for an early substitution. I would play Oxlade Chamberlain and keep Podolski and Giroud since Podolski is pretty hot at the moment. The Everton game is massive but we have to win this one first. I am optimistic. I have no idea of what the deal re kit and naming rights is, only sure that it won’t make much difference to Wenger in January, he sees no value in that market and rarely commits himself to it.

  13. redcore says:

    Hi desi, regarding the deal there is a post from tim of 7 am kickoff that explains things well and is worth a read.
    the surprise is the huge positive spin the club is putting on this. By claiming that we can now compete for the best talent they are heaping pressure on themselves to go get a goetze level of player. Of course this is AW we are talking about so theres no telling what he will / wont do with the money..

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