Villa Preview: Tight Defence + Efficient Attack = 3 Points


Villa Park. It isn’t a classically romantic football ground nonetheless many fates have been decided in this corner of Birmingham throughout the years. For those of a certain age, it evokes memories of FA Cup semi-finals; the romance of the cup involving an early train to New Street, a sense of anticipation, trepidation but more than anything, of a good day out. Wembley has taken over as the venue for such ties now as the Football Association seek to recoup their investment, to stop the national stadium becoming an expensive white elephant but the flames still flicker as those days are recalled.

But today is not about that, it is about the Premier League. The weekend’s results have gone as expected yet the title odds have swayed with the prevailing wind. Victory tonight sends Arsenal back to the top of the table and a small psychological blow to those currently above them, a reminder that this year’s vintage is not prepared to yield just yet. Perhaps it is the occasion to show the depth of the squad Arsène likes to refer to, that Theo Walcott’s absence is not the blow it appears to be. In fact, they have to show that and the expectation is that they will.

Paul Lambert played down the importance of possession and having won at The Emirates on the opening day of the season without much of the ball, you understand why. It is that backdrop that ought to fire Arsenal even more, a sense of eradicating the lowest point of the season thus far; a measure of progress. The visceral chants about spending money have dimmed and the aspect narrower, the two sides meet with Arsenal needing to invest in the transfer market. As with that sunny August afternoon, there is still time to do so; now, the options are more limited for the manager with the past almost haunting Arsène as Thierry Henry stood beside him at yesterday’s training session.

Pivotal to Arsenal’s progress since the opening day defeat, has been a parsimonious defence. Villa exploited the gaps as Arsenal chased an equaliser but since then, nine of the nineteen games have ended with a clean sheet for the defence. It is, Wojciech Szczesny observed, down to a settled back four with the likes of Monreal and Jenkinson slotting into the side with a minimum of fuss. Regimentation served Wenger well in his successful sides with the defence continuously drilled in training. It is apparent that he and the coaches have put effort into this generation of players, schooling them the same way. They are not at the level of 1998 or 2004 but they are certainly more disciplined than Arsenal teams since then.

Szczesny admits it has been a weakness,

Clean sheets or something we have always wanted to improve because over the last few years we haven’t been the strongest in the league defensively. Last season we improved a lot, but I think now we are showing much more consistency in our defending. There is still room for improvement, but I have to credit the defenders and the shape of the whole team.

The last part is, I think, key to this. The whole of the team is defending, working hard to shut down opponents when they have the ball. Perhaps that should be on the rare occasions they have the ball. When it works, Arsenal are a tough team to break down; when effort drops, weakness is ruthlessly exposed as we saw against City and Villa. If you think how far apart those games are, that indicates the levels of consistency reached. Yes, there are individual errors such as at Old Trafford which are costly but no coach in the world has ever been able to eradicate them from a game.

With Thomas Vermaelen succumbing to injury, Szczesny is getting toward his favoured quartet ahead of him. Only Kieran Gibbs would seem to be missing tonight and with Nacho Monreal as a deputy, there is no urgent requirement for the England international to be rushed back into the side. It is in midfield, as always, where Wenger faces his choices. Does he pair Flamini and Arteta as a barrier or is more guile needed than the Frenchman? With the attacking trio of Özil, Cazorla and Giroud in the side, will Arsenal be better served by the artisan Flamini or either of Wilshere and Rosicky, a touch of creativity with a little bite? Personally, I am not convinced of the need for an overt defensive barrier this evening. Villa are going to cede possession and be disciplined without the ball, Arsenal need to manipulate their opponents out of position to exploit the attacking talent at their disposal. However, I suspect Arsène will go with Wilshere, saving Rosicky as a replacement for Özil or Cazorla, injecting his magic as the match reaches its latter stages.

Much of the talk since dumping Tottenham out of the cup has been around Serge Gnabry. With Aaron Ramsey absent, it seems likely that the German will be able to press his claims for a place in the national squad. Had the Welshman been fit, I wonder if the manager would have been tempted into playing Wilshere in the wide right position as he has before, focussing more on retaining possession than adding width to the attack. As it is, Gnabry’s performances this season and especially last weekend – it seems so long ago – merit his inclusion and suggest there should be little concern with him deputising for Walcott for the rest of the season.

I would expect the line-up to be:

Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Wilshere, Arteta; Gnabry, Özil, Cazorla; Giroud

Whatever XI Arsène fields, three points is the objective and they are capable of achieving that end. Villa’s home form is very poor with just seven goals scored in ten matches; Arsenal away from home have shown a ruthless streak which needs to continue on a ground where they have enjoyed playing in the Premier League, unbeaten in fourteen visits.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

270 thoughts on “Villa Preview: Tight Defence + Efficient Attack = 3 Points

  1. I do think Rosicky could help. Ozil is just not at the races and we are up, so a better defender in TR7 is good.

    Maybe Ox in for Gnabry?

  2. @Moe

    Still no width? Maybe bring in Podolski or Ox and maybe Mozart for Ozil or Santi. Mozart does seem to relish coming on a terrorizing and playing in matches like this.

  3. Really good chance. Gibbs probably should have had a shot, but Giroud should be getting that one inside the post.

  4. Still doing it though. Trying to hold the ball without threatening. Inviting Villa to come on to us again.

  5. It was coming and Cazorla has done that a few times this match.

    Now the match has turned into a full blooded attack

    Mertasacker rightly angry, fucking love him.

  6. Commentator clueless. Row between Ozil and Benteke cos Ozil kicked the ball away so they couldn’t take a quick throw. Ozil did it so Rosicky could get treatment and Benteke was being a dick.

  7. TR7’s nose will be swollen if not broken.

    Time for big character, determination and concentration.

  8. Needless nerves we were cruising n we only have ourselves to blame
    Show some character now and put this to bed

  9. Sagna starting to cock up as well. Dwelt on the ball and got closed down as he passed it and they managed to get a break.

  10. Push on Per as the ball came in. If that had gone it we could well have been accusing the ref of killing our season.

  11. A title winner gets a third now to crush Villa–that would be nice but just weathering the storm would be great.

  12. Well Villa is really believing now. and arsenal just seem lost.. we are to good for this, its time to stand up and be counted. Do we want to win this title or not?

  13. Moe

    Casual passing was in the first half after we score the second goal. The second half has been a lazy team thinking they had done enough already. Maybe we have, but should not be doing it this way.

  14. bleh i don’t even get why they tried to shoot from an impossible angel.. why not just get it out to a corner? loo at Ozil. just holding the ball passing it around making sure Villa cannot score. being clever, winning matches…

  15. Why do we have to make it so difficult for ourselves? Three points, but scrapped through. Still means we are the dark horses even though we are back on top.

  16. BFG = MVP

    Maybe the best Arsenal leader since Tony Adams? Who of our recent captains stand so much for accountability as this man?

  17. Wavey

    You could see the warning signs in the second half straight away.

    But Ox played really well.

    We need another winger , tricks , pace and shooting isn’t asking for much is it? ;D

  18. We made it hard for ourselves but villa today is a milestone reached
    If ever there was a prophetic game this was it
    There was pressure on many levels
    All our rivals won
    The hodoo of the 3-1 defeat was hanging in the air
    Everyone and his dog was waiting for us to falter
    But we lead again and most importantly we keep leading whatever the odds
    Despite the nervy last quarter we deserved the three points

  19. Well, we made it harder for ourselves in that half but all in all a pretty controlled performance.

    Referee was good too. All in all, a cracking nights football.

    On to the next.

  20. It feels a bit like United last season though. Lots of scrappy wins. Few outstanding performances, a lot of scary moments for the fans. but we do win. I guess that is how you win the league? no real highs or lows just very consistent 🙂

  21. A couple of times late on we actually had their defence in real trouble on the break and didn’t even get a shot in. That is when we just need to be going up the other end and scoring, but we seemed strangely off our game on the break. Clearly we didn’t have Theo’s pace, but Giroud had a chance to pick out Ozil and Ozil had a chance to return the favour, both failed to find their man.

    Still, the three points away from home ensure we are back at the top and have Fulham visiting at the weekend. Let’s trounce Fulham instead then. 6-0

  22. I think we are lacking goal threat, feels like when Walcott was injured before, had to rely on defence. And put pressure on our midfield to score.

    With Walcott injured now, i really think we’re gonna struggle for goals.

    Need another player in the team who can take deadly freekicks and/or score goals out of nowhere when the team is struggling.

  23. Top of the fucking league motherfuckers!!!!!! Oooh to, ooh to be, ooh to be a Goonah!!

    Now its off to the pub I go, askipping all the way 🙂

  24. 17 games to go and United are still 11 points behind with a flagging stock value and a real fear of no champions league. Arsenal win with their season average of about 2-1 against Villa and once again find themselves at the summit. Great days to be an Arsenal fan at the moment.

  25. Hearing managers week in, week out talking about how unlucky they were not to get something out of the game. Let’s make this clear, that means we are taking three points off them, again and again. They weren’t unlucky, they got beat.

  26. everyone is on about how great chelsea and city are. but if chelasea city and arsenal have the exact same results from here and in We will be on the top comes summer.

    Yes we have to win the rest of our games. But bloody hell so do they!

  27. Poodle

    What worries me is if we have to go into a match against City with them still a point behind us, i’m a little shamed to admit i don’t have faith going in against City. Although in fairness we had Vermaelen (no disrespect to him but Mertesacker is better) last time round and we were playing a bizare ‘leave the midfield empty’ brand of football.

    If we beat City (or draw) and beat Bayern Munich then fucking hell we are gonna win that TITLE!!!

  28. So bad news, Monreal with a broken broken metatarsal and Rosicky’s nose has been mashed (‘bad nose’ according to wenger)

    Fucking injuries.

  29. 70 mins to 85 not good. We gave the ball away until they scored, Cazorla, Wilshere, Gnabry, Ozil, but it was a transitionary phase as there was no attack option and we seemed not to know what to do with our possession.
    The goal was a wake up.They are a robust squad, against the lesser teams at least, in the end it was not going to happen for Villa……. however much we seemed to be squealing.

  30. Moe

    Until we have proven that we can beat the best we are going to have to rely on the best to beat themselves. We have Liverpool and ManUre in a month, we need to win everything until then and those matches will then be a test of whether we can win the title.

    If this is the case we will only need a draw against ManSour

  31. The Arse in The Gamb

    I hope so because apart from City, i do not worry about any other team. Maybe against Manure because we seem to have this mental bock with them, still don’t know how we lost to that lot.

    But for me, the next step for this team is to convincingly beat a big team like Bayern over two legs. Knock them out and the belief that will bring will be astonishing. Not only will we grow as a team, but we will grow further in our stature and people’s opinions of us.

    The single reason we have always have this status as an ‘almost there’ team is because we need to convincingly stamp our authority over the big teams on a consistent basis.

    That’s when we will restore our status as a team not only to be feared but a team people will EXPECT to win titles and trophies.

  32. I feel so much more confident when Giroud is playing up front….

    Impressed with Nacho’s progress…..I think it nice to have too very decent left backs competing.

    Good away win, 3 points in the suitcase……..

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