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||1st Half Goals||0|
|1||Shots on Target||3|
|10||Shots off Target||4|