If only it was as simple as blaming our shortcomings on a lack of new faces. I would actually be a much happier Gooner if all our problems could be solved by signing a few big cheques and bringing in three or four top drawer players.
Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, Saturday’s debacle wasn’t just down to Wenger’s failure to strengthen his young, mediocre squad over the past three months. Of course better players are needed, but the main reasons we lost were the exact same ones that cost us dear on many occasions last season:
1) Wenger’s failure to motivate his players properly for matches against ‘smaller’ sides
2) Our defensive vulnerability all over the pitch, not just amongst the back four, which stems from the manager’s apparent disdain for the defensive side of the game.
Let’s face it, we shouldn’t need Higuain, Cesar and Gustavo to beat an Aston Villa side who narrowly avoided relegation last season. As mediocre as we are compared to previous Arsenal teams, this current crop still had enough talent to win this match comfortably. All that was needed was an effective gameplan and a focused, determined performance.
Instead we got the complete opposite. It was Villa who looked as though they’d worked hard on tactics all week while Arsenal just turned up and passed the ball about a bit, waiting to be given the three points at the end.
Once again Wenger failed to extract the necessary performance from his troops. They lack concentration against so-called lesser teams, although there was nothing ‘lesser’ about Villa’s excellent, committed performance yesterday. After taking an early with a smartly finished goal from Giroud the boys in red and white seemed surprised that Villa managed to equalise and completely lost their rhythym thereafter. This is a failing that has happened time and time again in the last few seasons and has never been properly addressed — I doubt it ever will be under the current manager.
When Arsenal went on that creditable if unspectacular run at the end of last season, they were focused and determined. The defenders had taken it upon themselves to have an emergency meeting after the humiliating defeat at White Hart Lane and tightened up considerably. Yesterday, that focus had gone. It was the same old casual Arsenal making the same kind of sloppy mistakes that saw us lose to Blackburn, Bradford, Norwich, Swansea etc.
We also witnessed a complete lack of defensive awareness in midfield, which has been a problem since Wenger bit Barcelona’s hand off for the £15m they offered for Song. Arteta does his best but is not really suited to a defensive midfield role. He had been the boy with his finger in the dyke last season, but without him the midfield was an ineffective shield for our static defence.
Villa’s first goal highlighted this perfectly. Agbonlahor picked up the ball near the halfway line and drifted forward past Wilshere with ease, the latter failing to even get a tackle in. Suddenly he only had Koscielny between him and Szczesny and when the Frenchman made a half-hearted effort to nick the ball, Agbonlahor nutmegged him and the reckless Pole came steaming out of goal to bring him down.
A proper defensive midfielder wouldn’t have allowed Agbonlahor to get to Koscielny so easily. I don’t blame Ramsey or Wilshere, who were the designated central midfielders, I blame Wenger for setting up his team with such little protection for the back four. In fact he has set up his squad like that, with Frimpong the only recognised defensive midfielder and Arteta the only other person who can play there with any sort of competence.
The second goal stemmed from one of many careless moments from Arsenal players as Cazorla dallied and was caught in possession allowing Villa another opportunity to counter. This time Koscielny showed Agbonlahor away from goal but then betrayed his reckless nature by diving in unnecessarily to give away a penalty. It looked harsh until Alan Shearer showed a replay on Match of the Day that showed Koscielny clipping the Villa striker’s back leg just before he played the ball and, tough as it is to accept, a penalty was the correct decision.
A few minutes later Koscielny lost his head as he went in late on Wiemann. Even though he didn’t connect, he flung out an arm and caught the Austrian as he went past him. It was an act of stupidity probably not deserving of a second yellow, but why give the referee a decision to make at all? For all his excellent qualities Koscielny lacks composure and that cost us again yesterday.
We still forced a couple of good chances to equalise, but Luna raced away on the break to finish us off and provoke entirely justifiable booing and angry chants of “Spend some fu***ng money!” from the home faithful who had once again been misled all summer by Wenger and Gazidis.
My point is that what we saw wasn’t anything new, it was the same old problems that blighted us last season. Don’t blame the referee as Wenger has sought to do — he may have made a few poor decisions but that was not the reason we played so poorly. A few better players may see some improvement, but the fundamental failings that are inherent in a modern Wenger side will remain. Until Wenger addresses the way his team approaches matches and defends as a unit, the personnel is largely irrelevant and we will never make the progress necessary to win trophies again.