Lessons Learned from Aston Villa's Loss to Arsenal

Adam Bundy@adambundy11Contributor IJanuary 13, 2014


It was a tale of two halves in Aston Villa's loss to Arsenal on Monday evening. 

After a tepid start to the affair, Villa were forced into an early adjustment when defender Nathan Baker was stretchered off with a concussion. Villa would go on to concede a pair of goals in the span of a minute, and the home team looked out of ideas until a late surge in the second half saw Christian Benteke get back on the scoresheet.

Villa's inconsistent performance was not enough for them to earn any points. However, the match revealed some interesting tidbits that will impact the remainder of Villa's season.


Christian Benteke Resurgent

It has been a frustrating few months for Christian Benteke; the Belgian has struggled with minor injuries and his longest goal drought to date, having failed to score since September. Without their talisman at his best, Villa have had difficulties scoring, and Benteke's header against Arsenal was a much-needed goal.

Benteke had few chances to score prior to his diving header, and his poor touch had let him down on several occasions. But the Belgian was at the heart of most of Villa's attacks, and his confidence and contributions soared once he finally broke his duck.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Christian Benteke of Aston Villa is closed down by Harry Maguire of Sheffield United during the Budweiser FA Cup third round match between Aston Villa and Sheffield United at Villa Park on January 4, 2014 in Birmingham, E
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

An in-form, fit Benteke is a dangerous threat to any Premier League defence. The striker's performance against Arsenal provides evidence that he is regaining his form from last season. 

Benteke's aerial prowess is unmatched, and the eight aerial duels that he won against Arsenal are typical of Villa's approach in attack. His ability to knock on long passes, as well as threaten from crosses, is irreplaceable. 

With Libor Kozak out for the season, Benteke will be forced to bear an even greater offensive burden than expected. Villa will need Benteke to build upon his showing against Arsenal for their upcoming fixtures.


Villa Overload the Right Flank

Villa's most dangerous attacks, especially in the final 20 minutes of the match, were a result of play down the right flank. Squawka.com's heat map shows just how heavily Villa skewed their attack towards the right.


Paul Lambert's available personnel and his resultant tactics explain why so much of Villa's play was directed down the right flank. Leandro Bacuna, substituted on for the injured Baker, is a right-footed player who primarily plays at right-back or on the right side of the midfield.

Upon Baker's injury, Villa shifted from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 featuring Bacuna as a part of a midfield foursome. Among the midfielders, Bacuna was the player most inclined to hug the touchline, while his counterparts tended to occupy the middle of the park.

When Andreas Weimann was introduced for Karim El Ahmadi, Villa became even further focused on attacking down the right. Substituting Weimann essentially added a right-sided forward in place of a central midfielder. Weimann complemented Bacuna and Matthew Lowton, who became more adventurous as the match went on.

Villa were playing with three players on the right side of the pitch by the end of the match, and it is, therefore, no surprise that Villa's lone goal came from a cross from the right after hard work from Bacuna and a great delivery from Lowton. 

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Matthew Lowton of Aston Villa in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Swansea City at Villa Park on December 28, 2013 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Similar to Benteke, Lowton has struggled to live up to his stellar debut season at Villa Park. Defensive errors have marred many of Lowton's performances this season, but the right-back remains one of Villa's best passers. 

He was back to his best against Arsenal, especially once Weimann came on. Now chasing the game in its final stages, Lowton essentially swapped places with Bacuna and played more as a midfielder than a defender and orchestrated many dangerous attacks down the right.

Although it came frustratingly late in the match, this spell of play was encouraging and effective. Villa have struggled to create chances this season, and Lambert must find a way to recreate Villa's second-half performance against Liverpool next weekend.


Nicklas Helenius Is Still Not Trusted

Having barely featured in his time at Villa Park, striker Nicklas Helenius must have thought that Libor Kozak's injury would be the opportunity he needed to get a chance in the first-team. 

After yet another game as an unused sub, however, Helenius continues to be overlooked by his manager. Despite having used just two of his available three substitutions, Lambert chose not to introduce the striker when his team was down and searching for an equalizer.

Lambert's reluctance to play Helenius has been further compounded by news that Wigan striker Grant Holt may be reunited with his former manager, Lambert, and join Villa on loan.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 27:  Grant Holt of Wigan Athletic in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Charlton Athletic and Wigan Athletic at The Valley on October 27, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Holt has struggled in his past two seasons since experiencing a successful debut campaign in the Premier League. Lambert's desire to sign him suggests that he does not trust Helenius to play regularly, making the Dane's future at the club uncertain.

Villa fans have had little opportunity to fully evaluate Helenius' skills. In the limited action he has seen, Helenius seems a capable player. His youth and prior success in the Danish Superliga indicates that there is still time for Helenius to become a contributor at Villa Park.

But for the time being, it seems increasingly unlikely that Helenius will be much of a factor this season. If Holt, or another striker, is signed, then it would be in the team's best interest to send Helenius on loan to get some needed experience so that he may change Lambert's opinion of him in the future. 


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