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Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Aston Villa away is ordinarily a weekender as far as I'm concerned. With family in Kings Norton, tying the fixture in with a visit to my sister is an annual event. So on Friday evening I took a train into Birmingham and headed straight for a curry house for beer, port and, errr, curry. So meeting the chaps at around 1pm on Saturday, one's guts felt rather like they were melting. Nevertheless, with the German market in the city until Christmas, beer and sausage (and maybe a carousel too, I can't and won't confirm) was the pre match order of the day.

The rain and wind were plentiful as we made our way to Witton and then the narrow, cramped staircases into the upper tier of Villa Park. Understandably, Arsene made some changes with Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson coming in for Bacary Sagna, homas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere. The first half was a drab affair to say the least, with both terms lacking inspiration, if not perspiration. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain cut to the by line on the right and pulled back for the lively Aaron Ramsey (one of the few Arsenal players for whom the adjective 'lively' applied), whose shot was beaten away by Brad Guzan's feet.

The unctuous conditions saw Szczesny slide out of the penalty area with the result of a free kick to Villa just outside the box. Bannan sent a wicked delivery into the area, it was deflected goalwards by Ron Vlaar and Andreas Weimann swept the ball into the net. Fortunately, the linesman's flag spared Arsenal. Per Mertesacker made an outstanding last ditch tackle (the German hasn't conceded a single foul in ten games)on Gabriel Agbonlahor, who embarrassingly tried to convince Lee Mason he had been fouled by the German.

Arsenal's best opportunity of the game arrived when Laurent Koscielny brought the ball out of defence and swept the ball out to the left flank. Giroud had moved wide and Koscielny continued his run into the area unchecked. Giroud's low cross found his compatriot, but the ball was ever so slightly behind him as he lifted it over the ball. At half time, it felt as though Arsenal needed more impetus and energy in their play. Podolski and Chamberlain's influence was minimal, Cazorla didn't have enough movers and shakers ahead of him to try and supply.

The Gunners initially looked as though they would improve the flat first half showing. Cazorla and Giroud exchanged passes on the edge of Villa's area and Santi's swinging left foot shot whistled just past the post. Ramsey stabbed a Chamberlain cross just wide after a well timed run into the area. But Arsenal's rhythm was never assured enough to build a consistent stream of pressure. Villa recognised this about mid way through the second half and clearly thought they had a shot at winning the game, having contained Arsenal comfortably enough.

Holman fed Agbonlahor on the left inside the penalty area, Agbonlahor shifted the ball onto his right foot, but Szczesny was equal to his low shot. The Polish goalkeeper showed his full value though five minutes later. Arsenal have ditched last season's pressing game in favour of staying back and holding a solid shape. The down side of this is that opposing players have often been able to advance unchallenged on the edge of Arsenal's area. See Grant Holt's winner for Norwich. Holman advanced thirty yards out and cracked a fizzing shot which Szczesny tipped onto the crossbar. That's the value of having a top class goalkeeper and I firmly believe we have one in Wojciech Szczesny. His stunning reflexes were the difference between one point and none in a drab performance. In turn, Ramsey toe poked a slow shot goalwards from the edge of the area, which almost crept inside Brad Guzan's front post.

Arsenal began to pile on the pressure in the final third of the game, but to little avail. Arshavin and Gervinho came on to try and give Aston Villa a different problem. Arsene Wenger drew the ire of a pretty uppity crowd when he replaced Giroud with Coquelin. Chants of 'you don't know what you're doing!' and 'we want our Arsenal back' (which I take to be another way of saying, 'we want Arsenal to win all the time') rang through the away enclosure.

Arsene's fighting against the tide with the support nowadays. I offer no real defence of a lethargic performance or the fact that we only have one centre forward in our squad. But sometimes substitutions aren't as straight forward as they look. On the face of it, taking a striker off and putting a defensive midfielder on looks negative. But shifting the shape of a team who weren't causing their opponents enough problems makes sense. But ultimately, the support made their stance clear last night. They were effectively saying, 'Unless you're winning, we're not with you. We'll be openly hostile until you're in a position whereby you are winning.' Frustration bubbles under the surface and the slightest ignition unleashes a powder keg of supporter discontent. It's uncomfortable watching Arsenal games at the moment. A lot of people seem really genuinely unhappy about going to Arsenal games now. A lot of people appear to really hate being there. Which, of course, they're entitled to feel if they so wish. I guess from my own subjective viewpoint, I regard that as a shame.

The substitution very nearly worked in an attacking sense. Coquelin, who is more of a mover and a shaker when our team was overly loaded with ball horders, made a powering run in behind the Villa defence in injury time and collected Chamberlain's clever ball. Villa will not have had anyone detailed to look after any thrusting threat Coquelin might provide. Alas, when he ran in behind the Villa defence into the channel, he collected the ball in a promising position, but when a calm head was required to pick out an Arsenal attacker, he absolutely launched the ball into orbit.

I understood the changes that the manager made and felt they were all perfectly viable. Our lack of alternative striking options is a concern that will require January surgery. I would regard four points taken from away matches at Aston Villa and Everton a good return at the beginning of the weekend. I must confess I was expecting three of those points to arrive yesterday, but then, as the discontent of the away support showed, expectation can kill. Football's a game of fine margins, had Coquelin got his cross right in injury time, we could be talking about a smash and grab away win amidst a less than dazzling performance. But he didn't, so the manager must face the awkward line of questioning he clearly took exception to last night. 5 wins in 13 Premier League games isn't really the sort of return that creates comfortable questioning.

Talking about players feeling jaded is all very well, but in the likes of Arteta, Cazorla and probably Giroud, we have some players that will be expected to play 90 minutes in every match that they're fit for. Ultimately because Arsene doesn't trust certain members of the squad to perform the same job. He spoke of not playing Wilshere, which is sensible enough. But it reveals a weakness in the squad when he bought Wilshere to be a wallflower on the bench in any case. I wonder if Thomas Eisfeld would have been a better option as a substitute than a player which the manager admits he had no intention of using. LD.

ASTON VILLA: 24.GUZAN, 16.LOWTON, 4,VLAAR (c) (29.Lichaj '51), 6.CLARK, 26.STEVENS, 8.EL AHMADI (14.Holman '63), 15.WESTWOOD, 25.BANNAN, 11.AGBONLAHOR, 24.WEIMANN (12.Albrighton '90), 20.BENTEKE. Unused: 1.Given, 7.Ireland, 16.Delph, 21.Lowry.

ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 25.JENKINSON, 4.MERTESACKER, 6.KOSCIELNY, 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA (c), 16.RAMSEY, 19.S.CAZORLA, 15.CHAMBERLAIN (23.Arshavin '77), 9.PODOLSKI (27.Gervinho '70), 12.GIROUD (22.Coquelin '85). Unused: 3.Sagna, 5.Vermaelen, 10.Wilshere, 24.Mannone.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday November 25 2012
Time: 12:09PM


Some really good points there, LD. Especially the one about why have Wilshere on the bench if there was no real serious intention to use him. It's also true that the mood amongst fans is that we should win all the games that look winnable on paper, but is that realistic with this squad? If anything, we've consistently proved that yesterday's result is par for the course, and I would not have been surprised at all if Villa had won. Mertesacker is a real calming influence and underrated by the media who just because he's tall and gangly (and not English) he isn't that good. It did feel as though we missed the runs of Theo and the ability to get behind their back 4. Is the away support also as tetchy now, Tim?
25/11/2012 12:36:00
THE most significant development.... the dark forces of Mordor have been quietly gathering strength during the barren years of Wengerdom..... when 2 previous wins ensuring local bragging-rights and qualification for next stage of CL respectively are not enough to contain them when they dont dont even lose and away match in the Prem then the writings on the wall
25/11/2012 13:03:00
Good and valid points about both the support and yesterdays tactics. I also understand the substitutions but I'm not sure whether I fully understand the team selection. Arteta and Cazorla are expected to start every game but Sagna has to be rested? There may be a valid reason for it but you expect selecting one of Ramsey, Ox and Jenks is going to risk their inexperience in decision making inhibiting us . Starting all three holds a much bigger risk. As it transpired all three were, while not poor, operating under the level we needed to have stood a good chance of getting something out of the game. Sagna would have shifted the balance of experience a little more favourably as would the much derided Gervinho. Sadly when Gervinho is effective its playing from the left or centrally and leaving out Poldo or Giroud as starters for him wasn't really an option. Same limitation applies to Arshavin. I'm not sure we have a squad that, unless we're injury free, is balanced enough for the 4-3-3 we've employed for some time now without playing too many kids. We seem much stronger down the left than the right.
25/11/2012 13:14:00
The writing on the wall isn't quite as pathetically whiney as the writings over at VS when local bragging rights have been conceded yet again or when failing to win any of their last 5 games tho. It's not even as effective at getting rid of managers with anything like the frequency with which Spuds feel compelled dump theirs. Much less reason for us to do so of course. Will this afternoon add a few lines to the writing on the wall for AVB? Does anyone here really care?
25/11/2012 13:27:00
I think the discontent is much more volatile in the away support than the home support at the moment. The chants about van Persie being a rapist only seem to go up away from home. I understood the decision to rest Sagna given that he's just come back from injury and, from what I hear, he was very nearly rested for Montpellier because he was feeling the effects. Jenkinson's early season form suggests he is capable of deputising from time to time. But I never had a good feeling about Ox playing because he's not looked up to much this season so far. Understandable given his age, young players will take time to find consistency. But yes I think the overreliance on Arteta and Cazorla is telling. We don't really have anyone that can perform their roles. Podolski has started every game this season, which shows a lack of trust in the likes of Arshavin. I've long said that I don't believe this squad has a good balance to it. We often end up playing very similar types of players and find it hard to achieve variety.
Little Dutch
25/11/2012 13:33:00
Nope :)
25/11/2012 13:34:00
That was directed at Amos' last question btw not at Mr Stillman whom I heartily concur with, well apart from his carousel riding decision making which I can unfortunately confirm due to the wonder of social media.
25/11/2012 13:37:00
dear dear Amos, the fact that you felt the need to write a 6-7 line paragraph to claim on your bragging-rights over a 70min 10-man team, tells me all I need to know about even your state of belief in this current setup... bodes ill indeed
25/11/2012 13:48:00
Yes Amos, it's highly unusual for an Arsenal fan to be laughing at just how minge t*ttenham are, what on earth were you thinking man?
25/11/2012 14:20:00
Mocking the spuds is a responsibility I feel obliged to fulfil Niko though it's rather too easy as some do such a good job all by themselves. Typically spud to miss that it's easy to mock a spud post about gooner supporters attitude towards to their manager given their own track record. Clearly it's the mere mention of bragging rights that hurts most though.
25/11/2012 15:41:00
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