Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa: 6 Things We Learned
It did not look like it would be a hard day for Arsenal early on. Santi Cazorla struck in the sixth minute to put the home side on the front foot, and Villa were defending for much of the first half.
Yet the Gunners did not make their continuous pressure pay, and looked quite delicate at the back on numerous occasions. Eventually, Andreas Weimann, Villa's best player on the day, took advantage of a counterattack and powered a low drive past Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal got increasingly desperate and unlucky after the equalizer, but their probing eventually brought its just reward, as Cazorla produced a tidy finish to ensure three crucial points and a release of pressure.
Let's look at six things this game taught us.
Arsenal Still Have Big Defensive Issues
I was looking for a bit of Bayern Munich in Arsenal's defense today.
I wanted to see Arsenal take a pointer or two from the German giants and do to Villa what Bayern did to them midweek: relentlessly work to win the ball back, and close off any space that might open up with a swarm of bodies.
That didn't happen at all.
In fact, Arsenal were as porous as ever at the back, and there were huge gaps between the midfield and defense. It was shockingly easy for Aston Villa to find space and counterattack, Andreas Weimann's equalizer was hardly surprising.
What should have been a totally one-sided affair turned out to be a very open game, and that isn't good enough against a team that might be playing in the Championship next season.
Someone Else Should Start at Striker
Regular readers will know that I am one of Olivier Giroud's most ardent supporters. But the Frenchman is unsettlingly streaky, and a real liability when he is not in one of his purple patches.
Right now, he is in poor form and that makes Arsenal a much worse team.
Giroud rarely got himself in advantageous positions when crosses were flown into the box, and almost never found himself on the end of any of Arsenal's dozen corners.
Few of his off-the-ball runs were fruitful, and he scuffed the couple decent chances he had. If Arsenal had had a more effective striker, they could have put this game to bed early on.
Arsene Wenger has few options up front, and that's his fault. He should still try something different, but probably not during the North London Derby next weekend.
But Not Theo Walcott
According to @Orbinho, Theo Walcott attempted only eight passes in the first half, and was only passed to 15 times.
His second half performance did not do much to improve his statistics on the day. From EPLIndex, Walcott's percentage of forward passes was the worst of any Arsenal player (11 percent), and he had the lowest percentage of accurate shots among his teammates (25 percent).
Walcott is Arsenal's highest-paid player, but is far too easily marginalized.
This was the sort of open game that is supposed to suit the Englishman's talents.
He should have been able to get in behind the defense with his searing pace and wreak havoc, but never managed to get in the game.
Aston Villa's Defense Might Relegate Them
And, at least with regard to the defense, Tighe was right.
The average age of the team that Paul Lambert put on the pitch at the Emirates was 24, and that inexperience was obvious in Villa's defense.
There was little organization, hardly any teamwork and no assuredness whatsoever at the back for Villa. If Arsenal had been a bit more clinical in their finishing and precise in their passing, the scoreline could have been much more lopsided.
Arsenal Must Do Better from Corners and Crosses
Arsenal had 12 corners today, many coming in quick succession during periods of sustained pressure. Yet I remember only one produced a shot on goal—most were either easily defended or not put into a dangerous area.
And far too many crosses from open play were met by an Aston Villa player in the penalty area without anyone in a red and white shirt attempting to get his head to the ball.
Kudos to Arsenal for attempting a different strategy than their usual purely tiki-taka approach, but the entire team must be committed to making that work. Without intelligent running into the box and more desire to get on the ends of crosses, the Gunners will be forced into playing one style of football.
When someone did attack a cross, albeit a low one, it paid dividends in the form of three vital points.
Santi Cazorla Was Easily the Man of the Match
Arsenal needed a bit of brilliance to put the finishing touches on their spells of intense pressure, and it was hardly surprising that Santi Cazorla was the man to step up.
Perhaps he should start on the left more often. Not only was Jack Wilshere allowed to slot into the attacking midfield position, but Cazorla linked up very well with compatriot and former Málaga teammate Nacho Monreal throughout the game. It was fitting that the latter should provide the assist for the former's winner.
Cazorla was constantly involved in Arsenal's attacking play in a game where some players were more involved during certain periods and waned in others. The little Spaniard could be found on either wing or in the center of the pitch when the it was necessitated by the run of play.
Performances like this from Cazorla will go a long way toward securing a fourth-place finish for Arsenal. Which, by the way, is a position that the Gunners are only a point behind.