It was always going to be difficult to win three games in seven days; and as expected, Arsenal struggled against lowly positioned Aston Villa today.
Five initial conclusions:
Arsenal are still too fragile for squad-rotation.
Arsene rotated three players for the Villa game: Wilshere, Vermaelen and Sagna, and guess what; the team lost its shape again and looked once more like it was put together for the first time. Gibbs did ok, Jenkinson was rusty and had no meaningful report with the Ox, and Rambo could once again not match the quality of his football with his incredible work rate. The Ox, who played his second game in a row, is also not making us forget Theo at the moment, which is starting to worry me a bit.
We might believe Arsene should rotate more, but today we saw why he is so reluctant to make unforced changes to his first eleven. His core, first-eleven team is improving quickly, but as soon as he makes more than the odd change, Arsenal drop their performance significantly.
Giroud’s service to the team is not being reciprocated.
Giroud is more and more developing into the team’s attacking pivot: he is everywhere and reads the game well. He is also getting better at shielding, and holding on to the ball. His lay-offs are also rapidly improving. Unfortunately, the quality of his service is not being reciprocated, and as a team we let him down today. Was there one decent cross in the entire game? I cannot remember any myself. Both ‘wingers’: The Ox and Pod, seldom or never made it to the by-line, and especially the latter had a number of poor first touches. Unfortunately, Gervinho, who came on as a substitute, did not do any better than either of the wingers.
Our midfield struggled badly without Wilshere.
In our 4-3-3 the midfield three are obviously very important, but Arteta, Rambo and Cazorla did not gel at all tonight. Cazorla worked his socks off and was pure class throughout the game; despite some lose ball at the end – clearly caused by fatigue.
At times, I wondered whether Arteta was actually on the pitch; he sat deep and got seldom involved in any of our attacking moves. We really missed Wilshere today, who understands so much better than Ramsey what is required of the lynchpin role. Wilshere is much better capable of holding on to the ball and moving forward with it with real intent.
Jack also has got a quickly improving understanding with Santi, as they seem to be able to think and act on the same wave-length. Sadly, Rambo does not offer this to the team, and it looks more and more now that he is not going to make it at Arsenal – something I say with a heavy heart.
At last, a clean sheet in the PL!
Well there was one silver lining today: our defence did well and kept a clean sheet in the PL – only our second clean sheet since our away win at Liverpool on the 2nd September. As said earlier, the FB’s did ok defensively but offered little in the final third (especially Jenkinson). I thought the core-triangle of Szczesny-BFG-Koz did really well tonight. Our CB’s read the game brilliantly, and timed their interventions really well. They were also keen to help out in attack, as they realised that something extra was needed. Tonight’s game was once again proof to me that Mert and Koz are our best CB-pair at the moment.
Arsene was edgy throughout the game.
Arsene tried hard to get the team going from the side-lines, as he seemed to sense from early on that his team would struggle to find the quality to beat a struggling opponent. He even used the F-word at one stage, which tells us how disappointed he was in some of his players today. I like it when Arsene gets emotionally involved though. Unfortunately, he was not able to change the game with his substitutions or his side-line coaching tonight, and I expect him to be very disappointed in his team tonight.