If things go according to plan we will be moving to a small town called Rolla in July. This Saturday was spent visiting the place and looking at houses. So I wasn’t able to catch the game live and only got around to watching it today.
It was an interesting game. Seemed to me like a typical end-to-end Premier League game, high on entertainment value but not a particularly engrossing tactical contest. Wenger went with Diaby in midfield ahead of Ramsey. Rest of the team was as expected. It is possible that he is looking to add some fresh legs to every game.
Surprisingly, there was plenty of space in front of the Villa defence and the visitors were not as efficient and effective with their pressing as I’d expected them to be. As a result the Gunners were able to play some fluid football right from kick-off and took an early lead.
Wilshere had a lot of time in the centre of the Villa half to pick Cazorla. The Spaniard’s initial ball into the six-yard box was cleared but he did extremely well after the clearance came straight to him. The chest control was immaculate. It was followed by a clever touch with the left foot to take the ball away from the defender. The weight on that touch was very good too as the ball rolled perfectly in his path enabling him to shoot without breaking his stride. It went through two defenders’ feet and the Keeper could only palm it into the corner.
The rest of the first-half was pretty open. Arsenal had a number of half-chances to increase their lead. There were quite a few three or four player moves that just lacked the final ball or finish. I got a feeling the players were lacking in confidence and thus not playing as smoothly and instinctively as they can. It affected their quality in the tighter areas. A more confident Arsenal side would probably have scored more in the first half.
At the same time it’s necessary to acknowledge that Lambert’s side were a constant threat on the counter-attack. As I’ve noted often, there are games when it’s far too easy for the opponents to bring the ball to the Arsenal penalty box. Villa did that repeatedly in the first half but they couldn’t get on the end of some dangerous crosses. The shots that they did manage were routine saves for Szczesny.
In the second half I thought Arsenal had greater tactical control after the opening few minutes. It had begun to look like a more one-sided contest. Just before the hour mark though, Villa fired a warning shot when they broke quickly following a corner. That particular move didn’t bring the equalizer but the Gunners paid the price of their openness in the 68th minute when another Arsenal corner resulted in a Villa attack, and this time a goal.
Corner for the Gunners, goal for the opponents, a depressingly familiar tale that could have put another 2-point dent on Arsenal’s total. However, there was a vital difference this time around. Paul Lambert got greedy. In fairness, he would have sensed throughout the game that his team can snatch a goal or two on the break. Arsenal were conceding territory rather easily and invited pressure. But by making attacking substitutions and by often keeping up to three players up the pitch, Lambert game Arsenal more space in his own defensive third.
Looking back to the Cup defeats to Bradford and Blackburn, we can see Arsenal had applied excellent late pressure in those games. It just wasn’t enough. Both those sides pulled enough bodies back and worked hard to minimize the number of quality chances conceded. Villa didn’t do that and it proved fatal.
The winner also resulted from a nice spell of possession and a well-crafted move. Wilshere’s dinked ball, Monreal’s run and clever cut-back, Cazorla’s timing and careful placement of the shot were all immensely enjoyable.
Wenger’s side had to hold on at the end and they did it fairly comfortably.
On the whole this wasn’t a great game from Arsenal but it was good enough from a team that looked down on confidence. Cazorla on the left and Wilshere with greater freedom in an attacking role is working better than having them both in central roles with the Englishman deeper. In the current system both have the opportunity to take their time on the ball in forward-looking roles. But it’s early days for this system and we’ll get a better idea of its effectiveness in the next game.
Szczesny: Should have saved the goal, it didn’t appear to be a particularly vicious shot or one that was out of his reach. Disappointing.
Jenkinson: Steady defensively, didn’t offer much in attack although he did try a few crosses. It was reminiscent of his decent form early in the season. Wasn’t beaten for pace and took relatively good care of his defensive positioning and decision making.
Mertesacker: Had a decent defensive game, wasn’t really tested as much. Was at the other end of the pitch for a corner so can’t be blamed for the goal. Wasn’t pressurized when in possession, passing was efficient.
Vermaelen: Just like Mertesacker, he had a fairly decent game in the Arsenal penalty box. Made one good tackle in the box and a couple of other useful interventions. Didn’t see as much of the ball as his partner.
Monreal: I thought he wasn’t quite as effective in the first half when his forward runs weren’t readily found by his teammates. Had more of an influence as the game progressed and picked up a well-deserved assist with a clever run and pass. Had a fairly busy game defensively as Villa often broke down his flank.
Villa found a lot of room on the wings and I felt the defenders dropped back too quickly. This stretched the field vertically and gave the visitors more room to run into. But it’s not a new issue and there is no immediate solution visible, even in the short-term. Arsenal will need a bit of luck, just as they got in this game.
Arteta: Passing was steady as ever even though a couple of wayward passes towards Jenkinson come to mind. It’s a tribute to his quality that an occasional miss is so noticeable. Worked really hard in front of the defence and won back possession on numerous occasions. 5 of his 7 interceptions, and both his tackles came in the second half when Arsenal did a better job of controlling Villa’s breaks.
Wilshere: Found more time and space that he might have expected. Was able to influence the attacking play with a role in the build-up of many attacks including both goals. Nevertheless, there were quite a few occasions where he could also have done much better in the final third. The early break when Giroud put him through comes to mind as do a few other occasions. This is a good role for him and over time he’ll make more tangible and decisive contributions. Right now he needs time and space to develop.
Diaby: Played better than he has in recent games. Was able to help out defensively and linked well with the attack. Still not close to his best though, and unfortunate to pick up another injury.
Cazorla: Easily the MotM. Two excellent finishes and was involved with most of the attacking play. Played a number of eye-catching passes. Didn’t have to track back often which helped.
The midfield had more time and space that Villa usually allow. So they were able to combine with each other, the attackers, and occasionally with the full-backs. But the play wasn’t as fast as we’ve seen from them in similar conditions. There was perhaps a degree of hesitancy in their actions and thinking.
Walcott: Received quite a few long passes in behind the defence but he didn’t have as much support when he did get such passes. I thought he played a touch too narrow and would have been better off varying his position and movement. Spending more time hugging the touchline and occasionally running across the face of the box might have added to offensive options against this defence.
Giroud: Bit of a mixed bag for the striker. Did a good job of linking with the midfield as he played some interesting one-twos and there was that earlier occasion of putting Wilshere through. But his finishing and some decision-making was disappointing.
The attackers could have done better given the open and weak nature of Villa’s defence.
Subs: Ramsey performed a good utility role starting in central midfield, before going to right back, and ending on the right side of midfield. Koscielny didn’t have much to do. Podolski should have shown better anticipation and hunger in attacking the ball in the box on a couple of occasions.
Wenger: This win should lift a bit of pressure and after a bit of trial and error he seems to have arrived at a better solution than sticking Arteta, Wilshere, and Cazorla in central midfield roles. The defence remains a concern with long-standing issues that don’t seem to have any immediate solutions.Follow @goonerdesi
Those of you on twitter who liked the guest post from Mick can follow him on his twitter.