That one was a tough one to take yesterday, because as Arteta put it after the game, we were the better team and should have put the ball in the back of the net.
We knew what we would get last night. Under the lights, on TV, Villa playing well at home and currently on a run of form that is history making for them. They were going to come at us like a runaway train and we would need to ride out the storm. And in those first ten minutes that’s exactly what happened. What we needed to do was stay firm, not do anything silly, then exert our dominance.
Unfortunately as we all know, the opposite happened. Villa scored early and took advantage of their moment of dominance whilst we looked like scared little schoolboys. Zinchenko was caught out of position and did poor and we paid the price through the decent move and tidy enough finish from McGinn.
And from the moment that went in it became about what Arsenal’s response would be and I have to say, the response was spot on, aside from the most important element of football: goals.
From about minute 10 to the last minute we created chances. Emery played a high line and Martinelli got in and flicked the ball away from Martinez, only to have the ball hooked off the line, whilst Ødegaard really should have scored from inside the box when the ball cut back to him. Football and fine margins: the difference on the night was that from a very similar position McGinn lifted his chance up and in to the net over Raya, whereas Ødegaard shot tamely low and into Martinez’s hands.
We controlled most of the possession, we moved the ball around well enough, we created enough chances to score but ultimately our profligacy in front of goal did cost us. Emery played a high line and we should have reacted to it more than we did. On the pod last night (link at the bottom) I said that I thought Mike Arteta being in the stands did make an impact and the reasoning I gave was that I thought if he was on the touchline I think he’d have seen it and made the tweak sooner, but he’d have told his attackers to maybe drop a little before making more runs in behind for the likes of Ødegaard and Saliba to put those balls in behind. We didn’t see enough of that yesterday and I thought Villa were there for the taking. We just didn’t do enough.
Having said all that though, there was still an opportunity for VAR to give us a bit of a rogering on two occasions, which feels like par for the course these days. At Luton it was Gabriel being hauled down inside the box. At home to Wolves last weekend it was Gabriel Jesus being tugged in the box. Last night it was Gabby J again being taken down through Douglas Luiz’s foul. I’m happy for there to be a higher threshold on penalties not given, but when you regularly see penalties given for a lot less contact than that, yet ours is ignored, you start to wonder if there is an actual agenda going on. Speak out against PGMOL at your peril; Arsenal did just that a few weeks ago and they have barely been given a decision ever since. Funny that.
But it didn’t stop at the penalty, of course, because there was enough time to rule out Havertz’s last minute equaliser for handball. Clearly the laws on handball are written in a specific way that I don’t properly understand, because when you look at the replays it hits Cash’s hand as much as it hits Havertz. So if you’re ruling out a goal for handball, why aren’t you then saying “oh, but using the same principles, it’s a penalty lads”. Of course not. It’s Arsenal. Rule it out and let’s give Villa their points.
It’s frustrating, I’m annoyed, you’re probably annoyed, but as bad as the officiating is and as much as we should have had at least one of the aforementioned chances given to us, I think we also shouldn’t have made this game close enough that we are complaining about those decisions this morning. We should have put away our other chances and much like we did against Luton, the poor officiating should just have been a footnote in this match.
We now have a Champions League dead rubber to deal with in midweek and my hope is that Arteta plays every single reserve possible so we prepare for Brighton next weekend. That is a traditionally tough game for us and it will be on Sunday too as they always play brilliantly against us at the Emirates. But Arteta needs to be working on a response with his players and that needs to start on the training ground tomorrow.
That’s all from me for today I think. If you fancy listening to our on the whistle pod last night on the Same Old Arsenal channel you can do so here.
Catch you wonderful people tomorrow.