Arsenal 0 – 2 Aston Villa
Posted by hiphopmama on November 15, 2008
- 0-1 Gael Clichy (og), 70′
- 0-2 Gabriel Agbonlahor, 80′
How many times can we witness this same exact story line? A struggling Arsenal team pulls off a big win against a quality opponent, the youngsters throw in an impressive victory in Carling Cup play, and this renewed confidence and spirit is dashed with a horrible showing against a team they should beat. In this case, the opponent was one of some quality – Aston Villa were sitting at fifth in the table and had had a very good start to the season. They had, however, coming off disappointing losses to Newcastle and, last week, Middlesbrough in a game that, had it been won, would have moved them into a coveted top four position. Arsenal were, as always, using a depleted line-up, with Van Persie out due to suspension and Adebayor only just brought back on the bench after coming back from injury. They did have Sagna back as well as Gallas, both of whom had missed time recently.
None of that accounted for the result, though. For as good as they looked against Man Utd last week, they looked ragged and sloppy today. Villa was clearly the stronger of the two teams in the first half, despite missing a poorly taken penalty, which was saved by Almunia and kicked out by a charging Gallas. Ashley Young especially stormed forward in the early going, creating and receiving numerous opportunities and only being held off by some excellent goalkeeping by Almunia. Agbonlahor wasn’t much of a factor in the first half, but he made up for it in the second half, making piercing runs and killing Arsenal with his speed. He was partially responsible for the first goal, forcing Clichy to make the play that resulted in an own goal. Ten minutes later, he scored one for real, securing a long ball around Gallas and striking it past Almunia to secure three points.
Arsenal easily dominated possession, nearing 70%, but they were much less threatening than Villa and created fewer chances. Bendtner was essentially invisible playing up front by himself. Walcott gave his defenders some trouble but it never amounted to anything. Nasri wasn’t nearly as dangerous as he has been in recent weeks. And Fabregas continued his run of indifferent form. At one point in the second half, a long ball over the top that was mishandled by Bendtner practically screamed out for Adebayor, and sure enough, a few minutes later he was subbed in for Diaby. Vela was also brought on for Bendtner, and that two man combination seemed to work much better although to similar (no) effect. The biggest blow, aside from the loss itself, was losing Sagna to a serious looking injury in the build-up to the first goal. He had only recently come back from another injury, and Wenger said in his post-match press conference that he will miss a few weeks with this new ankle injury.
It’s almost impossible to figure out what to make of this Arsenal team. Two steps forward one step back would almost be a blessing at this point, as every victory – moral or actual – is countered with at least one disappointment. The team seems to need some moderately drastic shaking up – tinkering with the established formula just isn’t enough now. I can’t pretend to know as much as Wenger, but I would hope that picking someone up in the winter transfer window wouldn’t be ruled out. Then again, with Eduardo potentially returning in a few weeks and Rosicky making his return around the new year, they might get the equivalent of some new players without having to spend the money. Whatever the case, the current tack isn’t working, no matter how many isolated bright spots it produces. Beating Manchester United is all well and good, but it’s worthless if you can’t replicate that performance against teams like Fulham, Hull, and Stoke. Aston Villa is no pushover, but they should at least elicit a more inspired effort than what the Gunners gave today.