Arsenal 3 – 2 Aston Villa
Three goals, three points; on paper, we sit fourth in the Premier League, two goals behind Leicester City.
Football, Brian Clough famously declared, isn’t played in the air. It isn’t played on paper either. The grass bit? We’re still nervous, like Bambi on Ice.
The defining feature of Unai Emery’s reign thus far is how infrequently we control games. Stemming from a lack of defined style, Arsenal fail to impose themselves on teams with often catastrophic results in defence.
Fortunately, the attacking side of our game is working. God forbid an injury to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, saviour once more with an exquisitely placed free-kick for the winner. Captain Aubameyang; the first of the five Unai decreed, who actually stood up and was counted.
It didn’t help when Maitland-Niles went all Mustafi and slid in on Taylor. He won the ball but Jon Moss, sometime record shop owner and usually crap referee, decided it was a cautionable offence. His second of the day and already booked, the Premier League’s Teletubby issued a second yellow, an action which rendered VAR irrelevant.
One-down, a man down; things weren’t looking good for Arsenal or for Unai Emery.
Half-time was his saving grace. Chambers came on for Saka and someone inserted a stick of dynamite up the collective backsides. Well, some of them, one of whom Matteo Guendouzi, this week an inspirational midfielder and not the hapless recipient of lax defensive passes from goal-kicks.
His surging run into the area induced a panic-stricken moment in the Villa defence and Nicolas Pepe despatched the spot-kick. Aubameyang’s decision, apparently, to let the Frenchman take the penalty and a captain’s one. It’s lifted the millstone from around Pepe’s neck; now, we hope, to see the goalscoring form which boosted his fee to £72m.
Good But Not That Good
We are, however, The Arsenal and this iteration does nothing the easy way. Villa served notice with McGinn’s goal that they weren’t going to roll over and die. Wesley put them back in front within a minute or so of Pepe’s equaliser. It was typically lax of Emery’s Arsenal and it’s debatable whether we are any better at the back under Emery than we were during late-era Wenger.
I don’t even think that’s even up for debate.
Chambers would eventually redeem himself but ceded possession cheaply; Grealish, who like McGinn should play at a higher level than Villa will reach, made us pay, crossed for Wesley to head home. With ten-men, we can’t control the play because we don’t retain possession well enough.
The arrival of Willock and Torreira was the cue for a revival in fortunes. How Granit Xhaka comes back from the crowd’s reaction to his substitution is anyone’s guess. Losing the electronic fanbase is easily ignored; when the stadium turns against you, your number is up.
Calum Chambers is a case in point. He’s been sold a hundred times over but this season hasn’t done badly. Well, OK, he’s no right-back but then we lack cover so he is now. Redemption yesterday came relatively quickly with an excellent finish, opportunistically slamming the ball home with the outside of his boot.
Which left the stage for Aubameyang. An excellent free-kick, straight off the training ground with a body behind the wall shielding it from the ‘keeper as Auba ran up and then moving across to hide it for as long as possible. By which time, of course, it was too late and the ball nestled in the net.
The team spirit was amazing, we need to continue working and improving things. After this I hope we can improve and be strong. Together with the supporters we will be strong for the matches and hopefully improve. It is our challenge to improve defensively. They didn’t have a lot of chances to score.Unai knows the score
Observing “they didn’t have a lot of chances to score” struck me as a defensive phrase to use. And as poorly positioned as most of the back four during the first half. We were at home and ought not to be facing a high volume of shots from the visitors unless it’s someone like City or the Bindippers.
But we still conceded two goals. As Emery said, it’s a challenge for us to improve. Challenging in terms of a task we face (his words) or a challenge because we’re simply not good enough (my words). However, I expect a much-changed backline when everyone is fitter and only one of the quartet in yesterday’s starting line-up will be there.
Which one is genuinely down to who makes the least errors between now and Rob Holding’s full return to the team.
Whether that will be Monday night is the unknown. He is, according to this afternoon’s team news, “available for selection”. He’ll play tomorrow, no doubt, but with a week to spare before United, I’d expect him to play on Monday as well. Unai and I, however, quite frequently have different ideas on team selection,