Well if that wasn’t the crappy Yin to last weekend’s fantastic Yang…
Are we not allowed to have nice things? Are we not allowed to bask in the glory of a really resolute and fantastic performance? Because it feels like it with this Arsenal side. As brilliant as they were against Man City, yesterday they were as awful as they’ve been all season, against an Aston Villa side who have conceded SIXTY SIX goals up until that point.
Aston Villa don’t do clean sheets. Then Arsenal rolled into town. And it feels like they really did ‘roll’ in, because there was a distinct lack of intensity about the play and above all, a horrendous lack of creativity in the final third.
I think we all expected changes and Arteta can be forgiven for that. I’ve seen some fans talking about how he possibly went a bit too far but to me those players should have had enough about them to beat what was a pretty bang average Villa side. But that’s Arsenal this season. It used to be that we never beat the big teams, were accused of being flat-track bullies, but now we don’t even bit the sh*tty teams like Brighton, Villa, Crystal Palace.
It was an opportunity for us to rotate and players like Cedric, Kolasinac, Holding, Torreira, Nketiah, Willock (although I know he was a sub and didn’t start, but he had no impact on the game when he came on), should have been using it as an audition for a place in the cup final squad. None of them came even close to the level that should be expected of an Arsenal player and the result was a woeful performance.
Yesterday was a bit of a shameful performance and I know Arteta came out and defended the effort from the players, but I’m not sure I saw that same energy and drive if I’m honest. What I saw was a side devoid of ideas and devoid of a feeling like we absolutely must do everything in our power to win this match because up until last night, Europa League qualification through the Premier League was still an outside possibility. Not any more. Now it’s win or bust in the FA Cup and that has some alarming parallel’s to it in comparison to last season, because these players threw away the chance for Champions League football in the league last season as Emery prioritised the cup and we ended up getting tonked.
I’m not saying Arteta has thrown the league – I don’t think he has – but I’m somebody who really hates it when there are big things riding on one game. And after last season’s disgraceful Europa League Cup Final, I’d have wanted to go into this game with a little more hope following a series of wins that looks like we’re building momentum.
We knew Villa were going to let us have the ball. We knew they would sit deep and look to counter or hit us with a set piece. So when we are giving Trezeguet some social distancing space of two metres inside our box for a corner, I was dumfounded. Cedric didn’t do enough to close him down perhaps, but the lack of organisation in having Aubameyang marking Mings – who won the flick on – shows to a team who was lacklustre in its preparation and falling to familiar failings this season. We concede far too many set pieces and when this season is over (thank god it’s done – cup final aside – by Monday next week) Arteta needs to be looking at this very closely because we are a mess when it comes top organising ourselves defensively.
But we’re also pretty inane in the final third in terms of our penetration against teams that just want to sit as well. I saw a pass map of all of our passes yesterday and essentially there was a big green empty space where Aston Villa’s box was. That’s because no Arsenal player was brave yesterday. We had no creative influence who could either drive into the box or make that telling and killer ball that split Villa apart. We are massively missing a player with a bit of final third vision and unless that happens in the transfer window or one of these existing players steps up to deliver that, then we’re just going to have sh*t teams sit deep and wait for us to trip over our own shoe laces in our own box to give them a chance of scoring. It’s terrible and symptomatic of what we’ve been this season – a really average mid-table side.
I also think we need to have a long look about some of our defenders, because yesterday I feel like my eyes were opened a bit. I’ve been a fan of Kolasinac in the past, as well as Holding, but both were pretty pants yesterday. Both players never progress the ball forward with their passing and that has a massive bearing on the way in which we move the ball from back to front. I got sick and tired of seeing Kolasinac and Holding on the ball, controlling it, shifting it inside, then passing to Luiz or the deep-lying midfielder with a simple five to ten year pass. It slowed us down all evening and just contributed more to the general lethargy in our play.
We need progressive centre halves who are going to be able to distribute better than that. Mustafi is much maligned, as is Luiz, but if a sideways pass gets them nowhere, they will lo0ok for a longer pass, or a slightly more risky forward pass over longer than ten yards. It stops the opposition from easily predicting your passing lanes and countering. Sideways passes when every opponent player is camped in their own half is exactly what Villa wanted last night and we duly obliged. And that is the story of yesterday’s game. We lacked ideas, penetration in the final third and we switched off in our own box.
A couple of points I’d also raise before I clock off today, with regards to some of Arteta’s decisions. Eddie Nketiah as a wide forward just never worked at all. It was the very definition of a square peg in a round hole because Nketiah isn’t a tricky winger, he can’t beat a man and isn’t great with his balls into the box. So why play him there? Apparently Nelson was injured but I’d even be tempted to go with a Willock, or Maitland-Niles in that position, if you’ve got nobody available and Pepe can’t do 90 minutes. I just found that strange.
Just as strange as Cedric’s performance, which comprised of getting to the by-line and basically just hitting a zone in the box from a cross where no Arsenal player could be found most of the time. He needs time to adapt but whilst I know Bellerin hasn’t been great this season, Cedric is hardly making a case for a regular inclusion after a performance like that.
And that’s the season done. Sunday’s game is yet another end of season dead rubber that we’ve become so accustomed to and at this stage Arteta might as well just play a load of youth team players. Feeling deflated again today as I ask, once more, whether we “are allowed nice things as Arsenal fans”?
Catch you all tomorrow.