A late strike from Santi Cazorla rescued a win for Wenger’s men after more defensive ineptitude had given Aston Villa the chance of an unlikely point.
The Spaniard turned in Monreal’s low cross to spark celebrations of sheer relief around the Emirates after an unconvincing performance. That we’d even need a winner at all seemed unlikely when Cazorla scored the opening goal after just six minutes, firing home after his initial shot rebounded to him. The early strike should have settled any nerves and the scene was set for another Emirates pasting, but instead Arsenal reverted to type and turned in a patchy first half display. So much so that the visitors gave as good as they got with Szczesny being called upon just as much as Guzan down the other end.
While Arsenal dominated possession they never really threatened a second goal and Villa grew into the game. The pace and lively running of Benteke, Wiemann and Agbonlahor caused the home defence plenty of problems whenever an Arsenal move broke down as they exploited the vast space behind the gung-ho Gunners. As the half time whistle blew Arsenal were on top, but the visitors were very much in the game.
The second half was a big improvement though as a more determined Arsenal penned Villa back (I’m fed up with asking this every week, but why aren’t we as committed in the first half?) The second goal seemed only a matter of time as the Gunners swarmed around Guzan’s goal, the best chance falling to Giroud who lashed wastefully wide at the near post with his left foot. Van Persie he ain’t.
On 67 minutes the game changed suddenly with an incident that would be laughable were it not indicative of the serious malaise with which this side is afflicted.
Villa scored from an Arsenal corner.
Arsenal had left two men back against Agbonlahor on the halfway line — pretty standard procedure. But when Wiemann hoofed the ball clear, he chased his own punt, collected the second ball and ran towards goal. By this time he’d been joined by N’Zogbia and Benteke while only one one red shirt had made it back to help. So Villa had a 4 v 3 situation because three of their players had the desire and awareness to sprint forward while half our team were dozing and left trailing in their wake (as the picture below shows).
Now I’ve circled Walcott to show how far behind goalscorer Weimann he is. This is important when you notice his position as Wiemann cleared the ball a few seconds earlier…
Yup, three feet goal-side of the Austrian and yet he didn’t bother to track his run as he whizzed past him. Just as he allowed Olsson to run past him in the build up to Blackburn’s goal last week, he couldn’t be bothered to do the dirty work for his team this week either. Lazy, or does he just not care? It’s this kind of sloppy attitude that goes unchallenged by Wenger, who allows it to happen year in, year out from lots of players, not just Theo.
My point is we do not work hard enough at the defensive side of our game. It was ok when we had natural warriors like Vieira, Keown and Parlour who would roll their sleeves up and didn’t need to be reminded of their responsibilities. But when the manager nurtures a young side, focusing exclusively on technical ability and failing to instill a work ethic in them, this is the result.
What makes this goal even more annoying is that 10 minutes earlier Villa had an identical break from a corner. Their players countered with speed and determination and we were again outnumbered, but thankfully the move broke down. The warning would’ve been heeded by most other teams, but not Arsenal.
So why am I making such a big fuss about their goal? We won didn’t we? I’m being unnecessarily picky and harsh because I want Wenger to go, right? Wrong. Yes I want Wenger to go, but for the same reason I’m highlighting this shocking piece of play — because it demonstrates how defensively naive we are throughout the team, how we have no work ethic and how we constantly repeat our mistakes. This will eventually cost us fourth place this season just as it’s cost us any chance of a trophy in recent years.
It’s no good having a forward line capable of putting seven past Newcastle if you neglect the defensive aspect of the game, but that’s exactly what Wenger does. He sold our only defensive midfielder and hasn’t bothered to replace him because he thinks football is all about going forward. He also has little idea of tactics, which is how Lambert was able to outsmart him today by coming so close to taking an away point with his journeymen players.
I haven’t even mentioned Szczesny’s poor attempt to keep out Wiemann’s shot. That’s his third mistake in the last three games and the young keeper desperately needs a breather — not physically, but mentally. I rate him highly and think he will develop into a top class player, but only if he’s nurtured properly. Asking a 22 year old to keep goal in such trying times behind such a porous defence is not fair and we desperately need an experienced keeper to back him up. But experienced keepers have no resale value of course, so we make do with youngsters like Mannone and Fabianski instead while Szczesny has to face constant pressure game after game.
You’ll have probably noticed by my rant that I’m hardly over the moon with today’s display, but that’s because I’m looking at the bigger picture. And coming into focus on the horizon is Gareth Bale bearing down on our defence in a north London derby which will cost us £30m if we lose. Yes we won today, but ask yourself if that performance and lack of defensive nous will suffice next week at White Hart Lane?
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