Arsenal huffed and puffed but were made to pay for a sloppy opening as Ollie Watkins’ goal secured Aston Villa a 1-0 Premier League win at Villa Park on Saturday. Here are the talking points.
Any hopes of a first half reminiscent of the one at Molineux were dashed when Cedric’s lazy pass to Gabriel let Bertrand Traore in. His cross into the box found Watkins, whose effort took a fortunate deflection off Rob Holding and crept its way past Mat Ryan.
Traore was also guilty of a poor miss in that first half, one where Arsenal performed most of their tasks adequately up until the final third.
A combination of poor decision making and weak final balls prevented them from causing Villa any real danger, despite both Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe seeing plenty of the ball in wide areas.
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4 talking points as Arsenal lose 1-0 to Aston Villa in the Premier League
An improvement was needed after the break and that is precisely what the visitors got as Arsenal added speed to their growing possession. Mikel Arteta threw caution to the wind with a series of attacking substitutions, and while the threat grew, genuine efforts at goal weren’t forthcoming.
Some contentious decisions will again be part of the post-match discussion, as evidenced by Arteta immediately speaking to the fourth official after the final whistle.
That’s now three Premier League matches without victory, making January feel like an awful long time ago.
Next up on the fixture list is Leeds at home, a solid upper mid-table rival for Arsenal to contend with in the hunt for 10th.
Mikel Arteta Makes Questionable Substitutions
Initially, the changes Arteta made had a positive impact. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came on and pushed further up than Alexandre Lacazette to open spaces in front of the penalty box for Emile Smith Rowe, and then Martin Odegaard started zipping the ball around and showing he can play in a side with Smith Rowe.
Aubameyang drifted out of the game as the match wore on, being marked out by Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa. Just because the captain is slightly taller than Lacazette, however, doesn’t mean he can head the ball. The aimless crosses were an added avenue to goal that weren’t needed.
Then, with Thomas Partey getting injured (again) the decision to bring on Willian over Gabriel Martinelli, or even Dani Ceballos to maintain balance in midfield, was bizarre. The Brazilian does not offer any more than Martinelli.
While it could have worked, it was never going to when he switched flanks with Pepe.
Matty Cash had done well to nullify Pepe’s threat down the left side, defending staunchly in the face of the Ivorian, yet despite that the linking up between Saka, Pepe and Granit Xhaka was Arsenal’s best route back into the match. Disrupting that by playing two wingers who have to cut inside onto their favoured foots narrowed the playing field and made it easier for Villa to defend.
An odd tactical ploy from Arteta that took the sting out of the dangerous triangles Arsenal were building down the left.