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Match Review: Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 3 - Premier League 17.8.13

First and foremost, the performance was quite simply not good enough. We started brightly, dominating the early exchanges and up until around 20 mins we were comfortable. Villa looked off the pace and let us play. Ramsey and Wilshere had oceans of space to operate in and the goal we scored after 6 minutes was mainly down to some very dopey Villa defending. The back four were caught much too high, Chamberlain scampered down the left and Giroud was given the freedom of the penalty box to knock it in. Villa looked like they needed another pre-season friendly; they were pressing poorly and I noticed a few times that the back four were poorly positioned (full backs staying deep while the centre backs inexplicably pushed up).

Giroud Goal Picture Courtesy of Daily Mail

In the absence of Arteta, it seemed to me that Wilshere and Ramsey were sharing the 'Anchorman' role depending on where the play was taking place. It worked quite well while Villa were in their early stupor. But suddenly the midfield was sliced open by nothing but a burst of pace. Gabby Agbonlahor ran right through the middle of our team, cutting in from the left and avoiding some pretty tame tackles from Ramsey, Wilshere and Koscielny.

It was really dozy defending and was topped off as Agbonlahor was flattened by Szczesny. Advantage was played, Villa somehow missed an open goal and the referee pulled play back for a penalty. Now, I'll look at the refereeing in my next section, but whatever the complaints about the advantage, Szczesny's tackle was poor and it was a stonewall penalty. Benteke stepped up, hit a woeful penalty that Szczesny parried, but Benteke stuck in the rebound with his head. After that the game became a lot more even, both teams could have scored again if the final pass had been right, but at half time it was 1-1.

We'd already been forced into replacing Gibbs with Jenkinson and our second substitution was another forced one; the Ox was injured and replaced with Cazorla. We are used to seeing Santi playing on the left of the attacking three, but this change seemed to spark an immediate loss of shape. Cazorla rarely stays on the left, he's given license to roam, but with Santi roaming and Sagna (now at left back) bombing merrily upfield, the left hand side was left exposed and Ramsey and Wilshere had to cover. This dragged us out of shape and while we looked dangerous going forward, we looked horribly open at the back. This was highlighted when Giroud, our centre forward no less, had to sprint to left back to help stop a dangerous Villa attack.

Eventually we were punished, Agbonlahor put through again, after the ball was lost in midfield and Koscielny produced a world class sliding tackle to deny him. Anthony Taylor however, awarded a ridiculous penalty. Benteke stepped up again and sent Szczesny the wrong way. Koscielny was booked for his fantastic defending and within minutes he was penalised for a nothing tackle and sent off. Ramsey was shoved in at centre back (he'll be in goal before long) and Arsenal's goose was cooked. Down to ten men and a goal behind, Villa simply sat deep, packed the their half tight and waited for the counter attack.

There were a few chances to equalise, notably for Rosicky and Cazorla, but we were eventually hit on the break, Luna sent clear and finishing cooly. After starting brightly, we'd faded badly and handed victory to a Villa side, who really should not have won. Villa put in a decent performance, but not one that should be sinking us at home. None of the team played hugely well, but Szczesny and Walcott stood out in how poor they were. Walcott was anonymous. There was very little width and he never really got at the defense after the first 20 minutes. Szczesny had a torrid game, capped by a comical moment that found him 30 yards from his goal, slicing the ball high and sprinting back to save himself just in time. He didn't have much to do, but when he did, he was unconvincing. Cazorla looked short of match fitness, Jack didn't look his usual self and Sagna was caught upfield far too many times in the second half. All the players were below their best and it didn't help that there wasn't much inspiration to be found on the bench. We really do need some new players, probably before Fulham too. Currently bwin have us down as favourites to take the points out of that fixture but I'm not so sure myself.

I'll try to keep this bit short, because I don't want to make excuses. But in all honesty, Anthony Taylor gave the worst refereeing performance I have ever seen. There was no consistency, sometimes the slightest nudge was enough to draw his ire, yet other times blatant trips and barges were ignored. This was most evident when Giroud's mere breath seemed to fell a Villa defender and Taylor gave a freekick. The ball ended up being played long and Benteke flattened Kieran Gibbs, leaving the left back with a large cut in his head and forcing a substitution. Freekick right? Possibly a yellow card? Nope. Taylor saw it as a fair challenge, which was laughable given what Giroud was penalised for. It really had to be seen to be believed.

Gibbs Cut Vs Villa Image Courtesy of Daily Mail

The first penalty, for me, is a difficult one. Many around me felt that the advantage had been used and that it shouldn't have been given. But, if I'm honest, I can't have too many complaints. Szczesny clattered Agbonlahor and Villa lost the advantage after that, which in normal play would have resulted in play being pulled back. For me, it was a penalty and it was definitely our fault.

The second penalty was a shocker. Koscielny took the ball cleanly and clearly, a magnificent bit of defending. I really can't understand how between the referee and his linesman (who was perfectly placed) couldn't get the correct decision between them. The decision changed the game and although we were disappointing, this really did put the skids under us. At the end of the day, a refereeing performance like we saw from Taylor is hard to play against.

But despite that, it's a mess of our own making. We now have something of a selection crisis ahead of a massive couple of games against Fenerbahçe, either side of a difficult trip to Fulham. It's seriously worrying times and to start the season like this is a massive disappointment.


Arsenal (4-2-3-1)
Szczesny, Sagna (Podolski - 90'), Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs (Jenkinson - 28'), Ramsey, Wilshere, Chamberlain (Cazorla - 45'), Rosicky, Walcott, Giroud

Aston Villa (4-5-1)
Guzan, Baker (Clark 17'), Vlaar, Luna, Lowton, El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph, Weimann (Bacuna 88'), Agbonlahor, Benteke


Szczesny 4/10 Looked shaky and had a very worrying charge out of his goal 
Sagna 5/10  Industrious, but caught upfield far too often
Koscielny 5/10 Should have done better for the first penalty and struggled a bit with Benteke
Mertesacker 5/10 Lost the arial battle against Benteke, otherwise was ok
Gibbs 5/10 Looked ok, but was injured before he could have an impact
Ramsey 6/10 Fairly solid, should have done better for the first Villa goal though
Wilshere 5/10 Not his usual self and lost the ball too much, leading to a goal
Walcott 4/10 Anonymous performance, did little of note 
Rosicky 6/10 Worked hard without much to show for it, missed a golden chance to level
Chamberlain 6/10 Looked set for good game, but picked up what looks to be a serious injury
Giroud 5/10 Took his chance well, but failed to hold the ball up and got little quality service
Cazorla 3/10 Looked very unfit, lost the ball too much. Nightmare half
Jenkinson 5/10 Did ok, got forward well, but didn't deliver anything of real quality
Podolski N/A  

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