Arsène Wenger ruffled by Aston Villa’s direct tactics

Aston Villa pressured Arsenal high up the pitch and played the ball through the channels quickly thereby stopping the Gunners exerting any real fluency.

It was like Everton all over again. In fact, had Arsenal not produced a spirited comeback against Bolton, Arsène Wenger’s post-match evaluation on the three teams would almost have been the same. “… it was a difficult game,” said the manager. “They [Aston Villa] stopped us from playing when we had the ball and they played a long-ball game and closed us down, so it was difficult. We didn’t always find our passing game.” It wasn’t just déjà vu. It was jamais vu.

Aston Villa played their usual high intensity, high tempo game although against Arsenal recently it has become a necessity to do so to stop the Gunners from playing – and even more so without Alex Song. Indeed, his replacement, Denilson hustled and bustled about in the holding role but nervy touches apart in the second half, his performance suffered only as a result of a lack of defensive support. The Villians conceded the space in front of their defence and pressured up the pitch, challenging Arsenal to try and get the ball between the lines if they were able to bypass the first and second line of pressure. The tactic was made more successful as the distances between Arsenal’s defence and attack are larger this season as the Gunners seek to stretch play. As a result in the defensive phase, Denilson had a lack of support, the auxiliary left sided central midfielder Aaron Ramsey not providing the necessary cover while in possession, it was the same. In defence at least, there was no need for two Fabregas’s.

Villa stopped Arsenal from creating triangles and getting close to each other. It was clever thinking from Wenger’s opposite number Martin O’Neill who was also understandably furious of the Arsenal boss’s claim that his side played a ‘long-ball’ game. Direct would have been a more apt description as they looked to get the ball forward quickly with Gabriel Agbonlahor particularly feeding off Emile Heskey’s flick ons down the channels. They also had much joy out wide, once again with the full-backs left isolated due to Arsenal’s expansive style and Villa able to get many one-on-ones and numbers forward.

In the second half play became stretched as Ashley Young realised by hugging the right touchline he would be have a multitude of space. His two crosses created Villa’s best chances as Stewart Downing contrived to miss an open goal with a point-blank header and then half-volley over the bar.

Arsenal, in midfield were indecisive and leaden-footed, finding it both difficult to read each other’s body and verbal language as typified by the mix up between Ramsey and Rosicky after Fabregas had hit the post. Tomas Rosicky then had another opportunity to put Arsenal in front but his shot crashed off the crossbar after great work from Arshavin to burst away from two defenders and Fabregas calmly knocking the ball to the Czech.

If dropping two points wasn’t bad enough (according to Wenger) then the injuries to Thomas Vermaelen and Eduardo could be the biggest cost to come out of the game. The former’s replacement, Sol Campbell had an astute game and proceeded to limit Heskey and Agbonlahor’s influence. Nicklas Bendtner also made his long awaited return although a lack of match sharpness meant he could not tellingly bring a different outlet to Arsenal’s game.

Aston Villa away is always a difficult fixture and kudos to them as they made it awkward for Arsenal to play. On a positive not, it does keep the unbeaten run going although some concerns may have arisen due to the ease in which some teams have recently stopped Arsenal from playing. It may not be in the nature of Arsenal’s next three opponents to do so but if other teams emulate the tactics of Villa outside the difficult sequence of games, then it could be those games where Arsenal’s title challenge is decided.

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel (6), Cuellar (6), Collins (6), Dunne (6), Luke Young (6), Ashley Young (8), Milner (6), Petrov (8)*, Downing (7), Agbonlahor (6), Heskey (7) (Delph).
Subs not used: Guzan, Sidwell,Delfouneso, Davies, Shorey, Beye.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia (7), Sagna (6), Gallas (6), Vermaelen (6) (Campbell 7), Clichy (5), Denilson (6), Fabregas (6), Ramsey (5), Rosicky (7) (Nasri 5), Eduardo (6) (Bendtner 5), Arshavin (5).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Walcott,Traore, Eastmond.

Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)

Aston Villa Team Statistics Arsenal
0 Goals 0
0 1st Half Goals 0
1 Shots on Target 3
10 Shots off Target 4
0 Blocked Shots 8
7 Corners 7
16 Fouls 16
5 Offsides 1
2 Yellow Cards 2
0 Red Cards 0
70.2 Passing Success 75.1
21 Tackles 11
61.9 Tackles Success 81.8
48.4 Possession 51.6
50.9 Territorial Advantage 49.1

22 thoughts on “Arsène Wenger ruffled by Aston Villa’s direct tactics

  1. I thought Aston Villa played the long ball. I’ve thought for 2 seasons that they’re just Allardyce’s Bolton with pacy wingers. People forget that Bolton had Okocha & Djorkaeff who were tehcnical players. Much as Villa have Young or Milner.

    What sets aside a long ball team is how much they play the ball out from the back, as opposed to hoofing upfield.

  2. It’s about time Arsene had an answer to this type of football though. How many times do you complain about the same thing before you decide to do something about it?

  3. O’Neill did well by getting Heskey to drop deep and pick up Denilson when Villa didn’t have the ball, too. I was confident we could overrun Vlla in the centre of midfield with 3 v 2, but deploying Heskey there cancelled out our advantage.

  4. Well said that Arsenal were truly ruffled. But I’ll take being ruffled over losing (as was the case of Villa v Chelsea) and being beaten at home(as they did to us last season and have done same to Man Utd at OT this season) any day.

    Check the records, when Mourinho won the back-to-back titles, Chelsea drew when they should lose and won when a draw would have been a fair result. When Man Utd or Chelsea play bad and win or draw its a ‘hard-fought game’ but when Arsenal come away from Villa park we ‘were ruffled’, ‘dropped points’, ‘not at the races’, ‘pegged back’, ‘dominated’, ‘rode our luck’, blah, blah, blah.

    I dont think we’ll win the trohpy this season(though I love to be proved wrong)but this team is improving in leaps and bounds and just two more world class players; a proven striker(not NB52 as AW wants to believe) and a DM/CB versatile player and we’ll be ready for not just trebles but taking a crack at that unbeaten run record set by the Invincibles.I gladly accept the title of ‘crazy and dellusional’ over this?!

    But will Arsene? Can Arsenal take that final step from good to greatness? I REALLY DONT KNOW…like a meal being prepared, the team looks and ‘tastes’ like IT but just lacking some ‘mighty’ tiny bits here and there…ever being so close to it but yet not there, anyone? It leaves an hollow feeling inside…

    If we will only fight for every ball, fall back in numbers to defend and pour forward in droves to counter-attack as we did against Villa, Man Utd will be toast on Sunday and Chelsea will be lucky to earn a draw even at the Bridge and with Drogba and Lampard playing!AND provided we have the midfield of Cesc, Song and Diaby back b4 then…

  5. Great Analysis!
    I think just like the ‘park the bus’ problems we had last season, this season we need to face this and something else the next season. We need to just keep figuring out ways to play our style game which is having possession. If teams are pressing us, we need to press them back, close down the space they have. We never press up front too well. It is a known fact that the likes of Bolton don’t have technically great players. If we press them, they are likely to loose the ball. At least we will concede less and retain possession. Circulate the ball quickly and tire the opponent players.
    In the next match we might see an attack of Rosicky, Arshavin and Nasri, if Bendtner is not ready! I dont think Sol should play in the match.

  6. Wow, thanks for the great analysis! As a Villa fan I have to admit I am envious of such a tactically astute and well written blog. Moaning, cliches and in-fighting seems to be the order of the day on the Villa blogs I frequent. This reminds me of the fair, insightful and intelligent football analysis we got for a time on MOTD2 (before Hansen infiltrated and brought the level back down). I want football journalists who can help me to see the game afresh and explain the tactical nuances and managerial techniques that aren’t always obvious to me as a fan.
    Keep up the good work. I hope your brand of football journalism is the future.

    1. Thanks guys – i think MOTD2 made Gordon Strachan’s Celtic career while Martin O’Neill’s fine stint as pundit for the World Cup added a bit more layers to his CV!
      Ole Gunner: Just to reply to your concerns on the 4-3-3 and the wingers tracking back. You can understand why Van Gaal when taking over Bobby Robson in ’97 at Barcelona where he was reluctant to play the 4-3-3 in it’s current incarnation under Pep. Instead like Mourinho, it became a 4-5-1 in the defensive phase – the wingers falling back and then pressuirng instead of pressuring first and then falling back like Arsenal are meant to do. It’s difficult to compress quickly after stretching play.

      Your point in Eduardo and Ashavin not tracking back as aggressively are also valid as Eboue, Bendtner and Nasri are better at this. They are forwards after all and their natural instincts are to go forward but that is not really an excuse as Bendtner’s tireless work is an example.

      1. Brain,
        it sounds like there is some demand for a more general, less Arsenal-based blog discussing talent. I don’t want you to get too distracted– Arsenal is my obsession and I don’t have the time or means to follow other teams very closely (except when they play us). But at very least, some of your posts are worth cross-posting.

      2. What has happened to our pressing up top??? It seems rather less effective than it was 5 or 6 games into the season, when we were regularly taking the ball of teams in dangerous positions.

        1. Yes, that seems the case. It seems because attack is a big part of defence, if teams stop Arsenal from playing like Aston Villa did, then the pressure is less relevant.
          And even if Arsenal has the opposition with the ball at the back, the forward thinking nature of the Premier League means the direct option almost always supersedes the early pressure and leaves gaps behind.

          The concern at the moment is getting the ball out. Three times now Wenger has mentioned this and it seems the best option is for Fabregas and/or Ramsey to drop deep and collect the ball. It also didn’t happen at Everton. Missing Song’s presence seems to have some basis although West Ham and Fulham showed this is not always the case.
          It’s become underrated, Denilson’s simplicity alongside Song and that is the partnership that is needed alongside with some much needed dynamism/directness up top.

          1. We are vulnerable to pressure bringing the ball out of defense for sure. Song has become so strong and assured on the ball his return will be a big help. Cesc is very, very good at that, but is now playing much further forward. Ramsey can do that, but is too likely to be muscled off the ball against physical opposition. The biggest change, however, will come with having Bendtner up front. We can now kick the ball over the midfield with a reasonable certainty that we will still control it, and in a good position, when it comes down. Do that effectively and teams will begin to back off in the midfield again.

            1. Exactly. And that’s what we done so well I remember at the start of the season. Against Blackburn (at home, admittedly not the greatest example) one pass put the Gunners’ through to just outside the box and we scored six.

  7. I was actually encouraged by Sol — he knows how to organize and pretty much never loses a header. That is a relief. We really just need him to step up for four games and I don’t see why a well-rested play (but who is in great shape) can’t do that. My main concern would be his recovery speed should some striker manage to get behind him. I also though the entry of Nikki B made an immediate impact. He may be rusty, but he can bring down long passes like nobodies business and hence becomes a fulcrum to bring midfielders into the game. Excellent stuff.

    Against ManU, I would like to see Eboue over at right back and Rosicky drop back into midfield, shading left as Diaby tends to. I chose Eboue because Theo has been totally ineffective against Evra, who is a real threat going forward. So, it would give us something of a 4-4-2 feel. Rosicky will be in a position to play off Arshivin and Cesc… and for once, we will have some giants down the spine of the team: Bendtner, Song, and Campbell. Add Diaby to that mix and we will have a totally different feel by the time we play Chelsea. Anyhow, if you can’t tell, I’m optimistic. I would have loved to beat Villa, but the coming games are what really count.

    1. Oh — totally forgot about Denilson. Rosicky drops back if Song isn’t back. If song is back, I guess we push Rosicky back up on the right.

  8. Clichy had absolutely no help against Young and really struggled. This has been the common trend in all these “difficult” games. Even in the Chelsea game this was an issue with Ashley Cole not being tracked. The fullbacks are completely exposed and more teams will take advantage. Shouldn’t the DM be drifting out wide to help out in this 433?

    I am surprised that Aston Villa’s defence is so good since they play without a defensive midfielder or destroyer. Fabregas should have had a field day against Petrov and Milner(neither is known for their defensive skills)………but he didn’t.

    I think it was a good result for Arsenal.

    1. The lack of cover is a concern although regarding Ashley Cole. The full back and to a different extent, the central defender, have the most free space in attack and therefore making them harder to pick up. Their role could be crucial and as Cole showed against Arsenal and Sagna against Tottenham, the pair created two chances and both bombing forward unmarked.

      The cover that the Arsenal full-backs generally lack is when the winger can get one-on-one. The Denilson and Song partnership has always been best to deny this.
      No team, however, needs a destroyer – only if they are organised and understanding then that’s what really matters.

  9. Man utd will play the 4-1-4-1 formation which will make it more difficult for us as their midfielders are playing higher up the pitch. I agree with California Gunner that having Bendtner will help us draw them back. I think Man Utd did it really well against Man City. It will be a tight game. Rooney was playing as a real hybrid striker. He dropped deep to help the midfield and he also ran onto the balls given by giggs. If we play the 4-3-3 we might even loose the game. How do you think we should play?

  10. Some of you Gooners are clowns…. if we truely played the long ball game our pass success would be around 30 or 40% as we’d would have been punting in to space and giving the ball away.

    Villa mix it up, we do play the long ball, but we also passing it in short neat triangle and well as being able to take it past a man on the wings or use a bit of kick and chase too.

    I can feel the bitterness that Arsenal have once again been found out and people can stop you playing. Villa where comfortable and had we played better would have taken the win. The draw as a pretty fair result.

    Long Ball what a load of tripe…… I forget you Gooners seem to think you know all about “pure football”…. Can I draw your attention to Wengers first few seasons…. The “Graham” Defence and two DM’s who gladly kicked lumps out of anyone at any time playing along side pacey wingers who would get in behind pacey teams…. Hmmmmm but I suppose most of you gooners don’t remember that because the media have built you up to be some kind of Footballing Gods…. ahem try and watch Barca… now thats how you play football….

    1. World Class??? Is that a joke. I rate Martin O’Neill as a manager, but he has shown himself (along with the Villa team) to be small time with his reaction to Wenger’s comments. A grave insult? If you disagree with Wenger, fine. State the case. But it is not a huge insult; it isn’t even a big deal.

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