Wonky Arsenal Show Deficiencies at Aston Villa. by AI
The highs and the lows. This is why football is round and why Arsenal aren’t contenders for European places this season: this maddening inability to do whatever their 150 million euro forward line suggest they ought to. There’s a sense of wonkiness here, even after the 72 million euro outlay on Nicolas Pépé: Arsenal aren’t clicking up front, at least not enough to justify the massive fees and big names.
Lacazette and Aubameyang have great chemistry; Pépé and Aubameyang also are pals on the pitch. But here in Aston Villa, the ineptitude of that forward lineup is apparent. Pépé often receives the ball deep and wide. Lacazette stands at the edge of the penalty box surrounded by four men like a criminal. Aubameyang is at the North Pole, freezing, watching his steps to avoid crevices. Nobody from the midfield fills in the spaces. Xhaka, Ceballos and Torreira all play in holding positions, waiting to recycle the ball or prevent a calamitous counterattack.
Tactically, this is a far cry from the same Arsenal that beat Manchester United with verve and panache back in January. That match still remains the brightest idea of what a fully-retooled Arteta side would look like. Inverted wingbacks, vigorous pressing, David Luiz pinging the most delectable 40 yard passes, Ozil out on the right halfspace…
It’s Mesut Ozil, isn’t it? Or, at least, the idea of him — that was what Arsenal were missing at Aston Villa. A line-breaking midfielder able to spin pass after pass to the beautiful, flashy feet of Arsenal’s pedigreed attackers. There was none of that here, just Dani Ceballos hinting at some form of it — a turn here, a dribble there — before falling back to support Xhaka.
The 3-4-3 fits Arsenal against teams ready to risk the wrath of Aubameyang having space to run into. Not against Aston Villa who, just several minutes into the first half, determined that they were better off doing the sitting back. And when all you’ve got against a settled mid block is David Luiz’s luxurious passing, then you run the risk of not scoring. Villa simply won’t press you up the pitch as a Liverpool or a Man City would do. What shall it profit a team, then, if they shall lose their space and gain the ball? You may call it the Pre-Bruno Manchester United Conundrum.
Without a De Bruyne, an Ozil or even a Jack Grealish, having the ball profits little — unless you are Liverpool and your chance creation starts the moment the ball is lost.
Arsenal are no Liverpool, though. The answer to beating Brighton and Aston Villa is blonde, suffering from back pain and taking home 350,000 euros a week in wages. That is how United seem to have addressed their we-have-the-ball-but-no-space problem: they got a creative midfielder. Unless Arteta is a Klopp-level genius coach — who, unable to afford those pricey No. 10s, worked out a consistent solution through gameplay tactics — he will need to focus on getting Ozil’s replacement in the transfer window.
For all the talk about the lack of creativity: having three midfielders helps rather than two. Playing a match at times can simply be a matter of hiding your team’s frailities (by using three defenders) or exploiting the obvious (using three midfielders). Arteta went for the former and it backfired today. A lucky goal for Aston Villa more than not. Wonky tactics because of inherent lack of midfield quality defeated Arsenal at Aston Villa.