Arsenal’s victory was impressive but is it just papering over the cracks?

FT: ARSENAL 3-2 ASTON VILLA by Alfie Culshaw

A dramatic, chaotic and frenetic game at the Emirates last night saw us scrape past Aston Villa, impressively demonstrating resilience and mental stability to attain all 3 points. Whilst this strong mentality must be applauded, it must be pointed out that this victory somewhat papers over the cracks, and should not distract us from the structureless nature of our side that continues to give the opposition far too many chances.

The line-up didn’t surprise many, with the pragmatic approach of deploying Luiz, Sokratis and Xhaka an expected decision from Unai Emery. However, young Bukayo Saka was rewarded for Thursday night’s excellent showing with a starting berth in the Premier League for the first time. We began incredibly slowly and looked lethargic and dysfunctional in possession. Throughout the first half Villa cut through our feeble midfield time and time again with merely 3-4 pass moves, and although they didn’t make too much of most of these opportunities, it did lead to them taking the lead through an alarmingly sloppy goal.

Our passiveness in defending wide areas once again cost us as Maitland-Niles was slow to stop the cross which saw McGinn peal off the unaware Guendouzi and scuff home. Why do we seem to have such a lack of a midfield and are incapable of controlling a game? Two reasons. Firstly, our pressing isn’t cohesive and we allow our front players and midfielders to press without squeezing our defence further up the pitch, leaving huge gaps between the back 4 and the rest of the team, allowing the opposition to exploit this space thus leaving our defence exposed. Secondly, Granit Xhaka’s immobility at the base of our midfield makes us extremely easy to by-pass. Things went from bad to worse when Maitland-Niles’ recklessness and naivety saw us reduced to 10 men for two bookable offences.

Whilst we struggled to gain a foothold against the 11 men of Villa in the first 10-15 minutes of the second half, the brilliant initiative taken by Guendouzi saw us obtain a life-line with Pepe’s penalty. However, unacceptably we allowed Villa to score immediately after levelling, in a goal that reminded us of Luiz’ total ineptness in staying alert. However, the freshness brought to the side by the introduction of Torreira and Willock rejuvenated us and we asserted late pressure and dominance to grind out the three points with important late goals from Chambers and Aubameyang. An excellent victory given the context of the game, but, as I eluded to earlier, this should not paper over the cracks.

We move onto Old Trafford.

PLAYER RATINGS vs Aston Villa:

0️⃣1️⃣ Leno 6

1️⃣5️⃣ Maitland-Niles 3

0️⃣5️⃣ Sokratis 4

2️⃣3️⃣ Luiz 4

3️⃣1️⃣ Kolasinac 5

3️⃣4️⃣ Xhaka 4

2️⃣9️⃣ Guendouzi 8 (MOTM)

0️⃣8️⃣ Ceballos 5

7️⃣7️⃣ Saka 6

1️⃣9️⃣ Pepe 7

1️⃣4️⃣ Aubameyang 7 –

2️⃣1️⃣ Chambers 7

1️⃣1️⃣ Torreira 7

2️⃣8️⃣ Willock 7

Tell me your thoughts below and if you don’t understand some of my ratings, ask below and I’ll give some justification



  1. It doesn’t if you have eyes in your head.

    Think AFC should change its motto to ‘paper over the cracks’.

    Seems like blindingly obvious decencies are left addressed season after season regardless who is in charge at the helm.

    Still, we are consistently Arsenal in 5th/6th and dare I say a 4th position year after year.

  2. Striker like aubamayang are so rare in the market today, I mean how many 30year old striker do you see that plays every week without getting injured, he scored 9 goals last season in the Europa league alone, he may again start today, the guy has been a blessing to arsenal, without him last season we will not even be 5th.

  3. OT: Some Liverpool fans are saying that Van dyke was robbed of the ballon di’or last night ,according to them he was better than messi who scored 50+goals last season.

    1. He is impressive. Liverpool are a different team with him in it. I would love him at Arsenal!!!

      He would get my vote for Ballon Di’or because its not just about how many a player can score, it’s about how many they can save!

    2. Is Virgil a striker that he should score 50+ goals? His job is to stop goals. How well you do your job compared to others should be the basis for the crown.

    3. Messi was clearly the best player in the world AGAIN. The skills he has have never been seen in football, while Van Dyke is an excellent defender who also happens to have a bizarrely powerful physique.

      Thank god they chose skill over power. It’s good for football.

      And no, much as he was brilliant last year, you can’t compare Van Dyke’s stability in defence to 54 goals and around 20 assists. When you’re directly involved in almost 75 club goals in a season and dragging the entire struggling team to the title, you deserve any award.

  4. You have to wonder how long Auba will hang around if the defence and midfield problem is not sorted out!?

    It’s not just the back 4 that is the problem it is the consistent formation problem and the lack of energy to chase and close down. Look at Liverpool and how they work so hard to press and gain possession back when they don’t have the ball. Arsenal lose the ball far too easily and fail to retain it again. Arsenal has lost that ability. We had the likes of Viera and Petti in midfield who always had fire, passion and leadership as captains. Now, we have Xhaka who has none of the above. Our midfield is wide open and when you don’t have the ball and fail to close down the inevitable happens (we concede). Our defence is weak yes but, there is no help in front of them! Drop Xhaka and put Torreia in with Guendousi and then change the diamond formation too Unai!!!! That would be a start to solving the problem (for now)..

  5. Auba needs a rest for this game. We have to be careful not to overload him.

    Who plays as striker with Laca also injured. Eddie woulda been perfect, do we play a martenli/Nelson or being someone like bAlogun up to play?

  6. So apparently Tim Sherwood still has a problem with PEA choosing to give Pepe his penalty??

    “You’re not a pub team, you’re not in the Sunday League where you think ‘I’m going to help my mate out’ I’m not happy with it”

    Really people would die of hate and jealousy. English pundits and their stupidity are like 5&6

    1. You mean that Tim that was always sacked, stop listening to all those English pundits, they are like comedians.

      1. I don’t listen to them nor give em my attention, I just found this funny. I saw it online and couldn’t stop laughing

  7. Re’ Auba.

    Some on here have labeled Auba as a purely a “Poacher”, so by definition only interested in what comes into the box – what garbage, he offers so much more.

    They also fail to see any leadership in the man.

    Personally I have seen leadership, and becoming a figurehead, grow into Auba since he’s been with us.

    This bearing in mind he was supposedly a “problematical” player.

    Ask the younger players now coming through about his influence, I have a strong suspicion what they’d tell you.

    As for tonight.

    Last time we met Forest (F.A. Cup away) we got dinged 4 -2.

    On the night it appeared Wenger underestimated Forest, and went too weak.

    We’ll probably get outdone on the terraces tonight (I even hate when that happens!), let’s hope we can strike a balance on the park.

    I do note however, that Forest have league fixture at Stoke on Friday night so their manager will also have to take a view.

    1. I see your point and yes PEA is carrying the team with his goals but he’s not the best option for captain.
      A captain needs to be very vocal on the pitch, Auba isn’t vocal enough.
      The only player who fits the captain description is Guendouzi.
      His drive, Passion and Reaction on the pitch shows the boy certainly has it in him to be the future leader of this team. When he’s on the pitch, he shoes everything, his emotions and 100% work rate, he leaves it all there on the pitch.
      PEA cannot be captain just because he scores.
      Henry was more than a goalscorer

      1. PEA was the captain of Dortmund for 3 successful years, you don’t have to always scream and shout on the pitch to be a captain, Harry Kane hardly talk on the pitch and he’s the England captain, Mbappe once said that, Lloris badly talk in training but all the other players respect him, sometimes you have to lead by example, if you want a vocal leader then Xhaka is your man.

        1. Auba has never captained Dortmund. After Matts Hummels, it was Marcel Schmeltzer and then this year Reus. Also, if he had been captain, it would have been in the least successful period for Dortmund since there was even a season they had to battle relegation

        2. Again with saying stuffs out of no where. What year did PEA captained Dortmund? While Hummels, Reus, Weindefellier or whatever their goalkeeper name was. Those were the guys with the duty when PEA was there.
          Matter of fact are you aware Gabon fans constantly call for him to drop the captain band?
          Do you think it’s just about goalscoring abilities?
          As a poacher, when he doesn’t score, he goes missing from the game and you feel he’ should be captain. I’d like to see how he’ll lead.
          BTW please I don’t know what your definition of vocal is, but Xhaka is not even half as vocal as Guendouzi is.

        3. lenohappy, i think your wrong regarding Auba and captaining Dortmund…also If I remember correctly, he practically went on strike to force a move out of the club.
          Hardly the actions of a leader of men wouldn’t you think?

          As for Lloris and Kane, are you now advocating that it’s ok for players not to be vocal and just get on with the game of football? Great, perhaps you are starting to see players like, for instance Ozil, in a different light?

      2. Totally agree Eddie.

        Not captain, perhaps I gave the wrong impression there.

        More a player we seem to be looking to deliver, rather than the vocal side of things – a figurehead.

        It’s not his goals (as strikers can be selfish *uggers at times a very much NOT captain material), I just love the passion I’m now seeing in the guy ….he cares, and shows it (as indeed with Guendouzi)

        Enough of the Xhaka. ANM attitude.

        Mind you, if Unai likes FIVE captains (for what it’s worth)I would have thought Auba would have got in there (given the likes of Xhaka, Ozil are in that pool we assume !)

        I also agree re’ Guendouzi.

        We are probably going to get a hard tome re’ age, experience and earning player respect etc on that call – but suffice to say I totally agree with all you say above regarding Matty’s attributes.

        At least name him as one of the “five” and let him grow into the role.

        Impact of Captains role nowadays – debatable.

        But if any club needs leaders – we do !

        1. Yea AJ, we need leaders not just a leader.
          Oh how hard is it to get players with leadership qualities like Puyol, Maldini and Sergio Ramos these days. Matter of facr z they’re becoming extinct

  8. Although he bought us back into the game I still think guendozi gets way to much praise … he was terrible in the first half! Plus he has no positional awareness. Makes me wonder is someone like Xhaka struggling because of being partnered with him. Last year Xhaka looked ok with Torreira, he also looked ok against Frankfurt

  9. We have two top players in Auba and Lacs, both of whom have been offered new contracts, or so we are informed.

    At this moment in time, neither player has signed them… so the papering over of the cracks might just become the least of our worries.

    This situation has nothing to do with UE, as we, supposedly, have two of the most impressive guys in football to sort this out…could we possibly have another couple of Ramsey type debacles on our hands?

    As for papering over cracks, with Bellerin, Holding, Tierney and Chambers seemingly all about to be match fit, wallpapering over the mistakes of Luiz and Soks could be a thing of the past…but only if UE selects what could be (along with Saliba) the defence for years to come.

    That leaves AMN to play in the position that the club designated him for and his premier league experience would be vital in the midfield – no need for Xhaka’s mistakes either.

    It seems that UE has decided (despite his public rhetoric about the player being essential to his plans) Ozil has no future, so Cabellos becomes even more important to tie down for the future, as every club needs a playmaker.

    We do have the players to be challenging for the title and yes, city and pool away are games we have/will lose, but at home, why shouldn’t we take the three points back?

    It just needs a coach who has the vision to use the players assembled over the past two years, along with the talented players inherited and to have an identified way of playing and know his first eleven.

    There really shouldn’t be the need to paper over the cracks, but UE seems to have introduced an abyss of his own making…that’s why I believe the man should go – a bad workman always blames his tools (especially when he doesn’t know how to turn them on and use them properly!!!)

  10. First, with the ratings? I don’t know why Ceballos rated that high for you.

    Secondly @ AJ, when Auba plays at center forward, he’s a pure poacher. He’s not really a hard worker like Laca. It’s very evident in how he doesn’t lead the press, like I complained multiple times, during the villa game, Eagles and Mings were given too much time on the ball, and that’s Auba’s line of press .

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the fact that he’s finishing with consistency, but I was just telling you why I think he’s a poacher.

    Captains band. Realistically speaking, you want your captain to be someone who thinks with his head and not his heart. Much as I think Granit has got to up his game, on Saturday he exhibited the calmness I would require of my captain in a game like that.

    If you watch the game again, you’ll notice how he shifted the shape of the midfield to cover for Niles red card, and how he kept directing arsenals play to less risky areas in the second half. I know many will be against my opinion, but that’s what I saw. It made me understand why 5 professional managers have thought of him as a captain.

    Xhakas current situation reminds me of the inertia of Ramsey’s situation after the injury. Watching a game at a pub, you’ll see arsenal fans insult Xhaka for just receiving the ball before he even plays it. I’d urge calm with him as I individually have seen xhaka cut out the biggest misgiving in his game. The lack of an accurate short pass.


    1. Blimey guys, we’ve actually have a nice balanced debate breaking out here.

      Respect all your views, and it’s good we all care enough to have an opinion in the first place.

      Whatever, we all remain “Gooners” for life.

  11. I can only wonder what emery personal brief is? Does he want to win? If he does for god sake can he not see xhaka and one of Louis or Socrates as the weak point in the team? Does he have the ball to play whoever that suits instead of sticking with seniority and status. I way play holding or chambers and any of the other two senior defenders then bench xhaka, the guy is not good enough

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