After a thunderous win against Tottenham in the north London derby and an impressive 2-0 win in the Champions League on Wednesday, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal were expected to cruise out of Villa Park on Saturday evening with all three points.
Instead they met a Villa side determined to finish a vicious streak of games with at least a point, after being thoroughly thumped by Manchester City and rolled over by Manchester United in their previous two Premier League outings.
The Gunners began the game with the same mentality that the Red Devils had two weeks before, leisurely stroking the ball around in the midfield with little urgency to land an early blow against their hosts.
Some, including Arsène Wenger after the game, blamed their lack of intrepidation and forward drive on a grueling week that brought impressive results but drained a squad that is only now getting back to it maximum strength.
“We expected a different game,” said the Arsenal manager after a miserable evening at Villa Park.
“We played a very tense game last Saturday [against Tottenham] and we had Wednesday night, a Champions League game.
“Always, when you play away from home after the Champions League Wednesday, Saturday it’s a different game.”
They may have been taken aback by the feistiness of their hosts, as Paul Lambert’s side rushed to press the Gunners in the midfield, nullifying the creativity of their playmakers such as Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, who struggled to find a decisive ball or a testing attempt on goal for Brad Guzan to deal with.
With tired legs and a lack of "flow" to their game, Wenger’s men had few chances leaving the fans frustrated as they chanted “you don’t know what you’re doing” at the man who has failed to bring a trophy to the Emirates for the best part of a decade.
“We had many shots but not on target,” added Wenger.
“We had 11 or 12 shots but we lacked a bit of sharpness today in the final third. You could see that physically we were a bit jaded.”
A Champions League hangover may be the manager’s excuse, but it’s unlikely to please the fans if fixtures following Champions League nights end in disappointment, especially against sides in the bottom five of the Premier League.
Wenger’s side is getting back to full strength, and the appearances of Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs at left and right fullback, respectively, will have reassured fans that Andre Santos will not be making too many more starting appearances in the coming weeks.
But only Abou Diaby and Tomáš Rosický are left on the long term injury list, with Theo Walcott missing the evening’s events with a shoulder injury picked up against Montpellier in midweek. If a side missing two players, neither of whom can be considered integral cogs in Arsenal’s system, can’t recover or find the depth to get over a midweek fixture, questions must be asked as to whether Arsenal can legitimately battle on two major fronts this season.
The Arsenal manager continued, “We had a difficult week and a good week where the team game absolutely everything.
“We had two difficult games. Not everybody will come here and win and after a Champions League game you can make a draw, it can happen.
“We’ll worry about our next game and we’ll play our next game. I don’t know why you should worry more then you have to worry about the performance.
“Don’t worry for us too much. I would like to show you what you wrote last year about us in September and October.”
Touché Arsene, maybe we can’t write off Arsenal just yet, but Gunners fans should be wary, Wenger’s side is dropping off the pace of the top four and if things don’t change after Christmas, their consecutive run of making the Champions League could be coming to an end.