5 things we want to talk about after Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal
1. Arsenal more ruthless on the counter attack
Arsenal didn’t have to play at their best thanks to another lacklustre performance from the home side
It was expected that Arsenal would dominate possession, while Aston Villa would soak up the pressure and hit their opponents on the counter-attack. But it didn’t exactly pan out that way, with Arsene Wenger’s side happy to control the game even when they didn’t have the ball, which they did well.
Villa pushed the ball out wide to their wingers when in possession, as they aimed to catch out an at-times lethargic Arsenal side that made just one change from the team which achieved an emphatic victory over Olympiakos in Greece.
In the eighth minute, Theo Walcott was carelessly bundled to the floor by the hapless Alan Hutton as he ran towards goal, with Olivier Giroud gratefully converting the resulting penalty. Arsenal didn’t have to play at their best thanks to another lacklustre performance from the home side, although their second goal was perhaps their best team goal of the campaign to date.
Box-to-box brilliance at 2:58
2. Ramsey shows his central midfield capability
Naturally he’s more of a central midfielder, we had to push him out wide for a while
With injuries to Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, much has been made of Arsenal’s midfield options. Wenger looks likely to reinforce the squad in the January transfer market, although Aaron Ramsey showed once again that he can fill the void left by Cazorla. The Welshman dominated the match in central midfield with both his ball work and in a defensive capacity.
Ramsey made more passes than anyone else on the pitch and completed more tackles, as he illustrated his adaptability. It was his third game in a row at the heart of midfield, where he now has two goals to his name compared to just one in the nine matches in which he was deployed as a right-winger. “It was an outstanding performance,” said Wenger of Ramsey in the post-match press conference. “Naturally he’s more of a central midfielder, we had to push him out wide for a while.”
With seven minutes remaining of the first half, Ramsey expertly slide-tackled Idrissa Gueye, which started the move he eventually finished. Giroud picked up the loose ball and gave it to Mesut Ozil, who cleverly drew both Joleon Lescott and Brad Guzan towards him which enabled Ramsey to appear alongside him to tap home. The German has now scored or assisted in 10 consecutive league matches.
3. Villa’s aerial threat real – but quality not
Villa may have produced more shooting opportunities than at any stage this season, but many of their shots were either mishit or way off target
Aston Villa’s plan to get the ball into wide areas to suit the aerial ability of Rudy Gestede was fairly obvious from the start, with a couple of early crosses into the box. However, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are both fairly accomplished in the air and Gestede didn’t really manage to get the better of the centre-backs. After 20 minutes he did cause some panic in the area, as Petr Cech failed to convince when he palmed the ball away following a challenge from Gestede, but Jordan Ayew’s attempted hook shot flew over the crossbar.
When the former Blackburn striker did manage to fend off his opposing defender, he was unable to direct his header on target. Scott Sinclair probably had the best opportunity inside the area for Villa when he popped up unmarked, but his connection was woeful. Remi Garde made the first substitution shortly after that and the introduction of the three more creative players in Carles Gil, Jack Grealish and Adama Traore showed the Frenchman’s attempted change in ethos.
Koscielny commanded Arsenal from the back and bravely blocked three goalbound efforts. Villa may have produced more shooting opportunities than at any stage this season, but many of their shots were either mishit or way off target. “There are big expectations of our strikers when we play at Villa Park,” noted Garde afterwards.
4. Maligned Giroud reaches the 50 club
He is questioned sometimes but the numbers get people to realise that he is a good player
Giroud’s penalty was his ninth league goal of the campaign, and fifth in his last three matches in all competitions. The French forward has received plenty of criticism since the start of the season, but is currently enjoying a decent spell in front of goal. He now has 50 Premier League goals for the Gunners, at a rate of just over one every two games – a decent return for the striker given his detractors.
“I believe that he’s at the top of his game; he is questioned sometimes but the numbers get people to realise that he is a good player,” declared Wenger. “I think he has improved technically, Giroud plays better when he has the opportunity to go through on goal.”
It wasn’t the hitman’s best performance, as he didn’t get much service, but his contribution to the build-up play in deeper positions shows that he has much more to his game than being a simple targetman.
5. Garde’s defensive headache still to be soothed
Every manager has to win every game. They are all in the same situation as I am
Micah Richards was missing through injury, but Villa have depth at centre-back with Jores Okore and Liverpool loanee Tiago Ilori (remember him?) returning. Garde might want to consider using Richards at right-back, what with Hutton looking hopelessly out of his depth. In fairness to the Scottish full-back, his influence in the game increased and he wasn’t afforded much protection by Sinclair, although some of his early passes were extremely wasteful.
Leandro Bacuna seems the obvious fit for the position, but with Jordan Amavi injured, he’s now filling in on the left. Bacuna was helped by Ayew, who completed all four of his attempted tackles – more than any other Villa player.
Garde, five games into his Villa spell and still winless, knows what is expected of him but doesn’t see the pressure as being any different from his fellow Premier League bosses. “Every manager has to win every game,” he confessed. “They are all in the same situation as I am, and we try to find the best solution. That’s my job, I knew that before.”
The new manager needs to settle on a back four quickly and hope they can somehow stem the tide of goals against them.