Villa 1-0 Arsenal: Arteta and Arsenal seemingly lost for offensive solutions- reinforcements needed
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
It's not often I like to use footballing cliches when discussing Arsenal games, but many would say we looked like we were 'on the beach' in this wretched display at Villa Park tonight. Lethargic passing, very little urgency and a lack of intent in our offensive play throughout. Very strange given our two previous results leading into this game and the fact that we did indeed have something to play for. For the second consecutive season, our season hinges entirely on a final with Chelsea, after failing in our league campaign. Let's hope we don't have a similar outcome to last year.
What was so excellent to see against the league's elite in the past five days was the hard work, determination, defensive organisation and tenacity in our game. All the non-tangibles were excellent, as well as the nitty gritty defensive stuff. What cannot be said of Mikel Arteta's team thus far, or just of Arsenal in general this season, is that we've formed any sort of creative and cohesive attacking unit. Chances are at a minimum, quick incisive interplay between our attacking players is non-existent, and most of our forward play does tend to come from set-pieces in these sorts of games. Very emblematic of a mid-table side.
It's not to say Arteta wasn't searching for solutions. He threw every possible shape, personnel and system at the kitchen window tonight, but nothing came to fruition. The first 45 minutes clearly didn't work, with the entire creative onus on Dani Ceballos to progress the ball from deep, but he was so deep that his ability to properly effect the game was minimal. Our back three and double pivot were so disconnected from our front three and wing-backs, with absolutely no link between the two blocks of five meaning we managed no way to get the ball into any dangerous areas. Desperately lacking someone to drop into the lines and link play. Neither of our wide forwards were naturally creative, and this in turn left the front three very isolated.
The introduction of Granit Xhaka was clearly designed to give us another route of ball progression, with Torreira failing to provide that in the first half. Whilst it did this, it didn't exactly enhance our fluidity when we got the ball into more advanced areas. Quickly Pepe and Tierney were introduced to provide us with creative outlets out wide, and there was clearly a focus on feeding them the ball as much as possible. However, both were left very isolated out wide, with no-one to link with, and were thus wasteful when getting into promising wide positions. The switch to the back four did enable us to get an extra body in forward areas, but Arteta persisted with using three finishers and not creators in that front three.
The Spaniard's final throw of the dice was to ditch using a right-back and was to finally bring in someone who could fill that number ten void in Joe Willock. However, both Willock and Ceballos almost looked more concerned at the huge space left by Cedric's removal, which Villa were looking to exploit on the counter, that their creative influence was essentially non-existent. Arteta's frantic changes and desperate attempts to change things all came to nothing, and the reality is simply, we do not possess the players to be even remotely good against a low block.
For all our possession, personnel and formation changes, the ball remained largely with our deeper players, and their lack of ambition and urgency on the ball meant we didn't exactly provide the platform for the offensive players to thrive. The front three had fewer touches combined than any other individual Arsenal player (other than some of the later substitutes).
All this just glaringly reinforces our desperate need for a creative midfielder to arrive this summer. It's absolutely imperative- perhaps more essential than any other acquisition. The last six days have demonstrated that Arteta can adapt and build a team that can defend well, even with average defenders, but he can't create a cohesive and fluid attacking team with the players he has at his disposal. A player who will register high xA, Key Pass and ultimately assist numbers- can play an incisive pass, can carry the ball and be a goal threat. Mesut Ozil is no longer that player.
A horrible night for Arsenal Football Club, that comes just days after a Euphoric night at Wembley. The emotional turbulence this club can put you through is truly remarkable. We move onto this nothing game against Watford, before the pivotal showdown with Chelsea. Come on boys.