Aston Villa found themselves muted by Arsenal’s perfect storm, showing the gravity of the learning curve ahead of Dean Smith’s side.
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In more ways than one, Aston Villa yet again found out that life in the Premier League is difficult, unforgiving and at times just not fair against Arsenal.
The top flight of English football has the ability to present problems you cannot fathom at times in which you cannot foresee. This is not only true on the field of play, but on the touchline as well.
Mangers of modern football clubs aren’t just there to be people who need to be accounted for their teams’ successes and failures. There is a serious claim that the modern-day managers in football are some of the most intelligent that have ever been in the position before.
Managers have an incredible hunger to learn, adapt and adjust to whatever the game of football throws at them. Astute tactical wizards such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp usually dominate the headlines in this aspect – but there are other managers in football who employ their own unique, and sometimes, dominating brand of football.
Early in the contest against Arsenal, Aston Villa looked like they were fully prepared to take the game to their opponent from a tactical perspective. Make no mistake about it, the style of play was as open as you’re likely to see in a Premier League contest. Yet Aston Villa looked comfortable playing this style initially and was keeping up with Arsenal fairly well for periods of time. Both clubs were perspicacious on the counterattack, displayed guile on the ball, swapped a few hard tackles… it was everything you’d want to see in an eventual five-goal clash. Unless you were Aston Villa manager Dean Smith.
Aston Villa went into half-time at the Emirates in as fine of a fashion as you could dream. Dean Smith’s men were up a goal courtesy of John McGinn capitalizing on some absolutely shoddy defence by Arsenal. Villa were also going to play the entire second half with a man advantage after a second yellow card for Ainsley Maitland-Niles. No matter what football club you support, if someone offered you this exact scenario, you’d only think of the most positive outcome. Again, there was a lesson yet to be learned by Dean Smith and his players.
The storm started to brew around the 59th minute. Bjorn Engels gave away a penalty to an on-rushing Matteo Guendouzi, which upon further inspection looked like a bit of a silly tackle to make. Not only was the tackle itself a bit questionable for Engels standards, but Marvelous Nakamba was caught flat-footed as Guendouzi made his bomb forward into the penalty area. Nicolas Pepe scored from the spot to even the scores.
Aston Villa took a breath of life almost immediately after Arsenal scored, pouncing on the chance to punish Arsenal for their taste of playing out of the heart of their defence. Villa captain Jack Grealish made a pin-straight run into the Arsenal penalty area and found Wesley in the box with a pacey cross for a tap-in goal.
The run from Wesley showed that he is getting a lot smarter with his positioning, using his size to round Sokratis and attack the ball rather than hope the pass is as perfect as possible. It looked as if Aston Villa were going to quickly learn from their mistakes in their previous game against West Ham and use the numbers advantage gifted to them.
Sometimes things aren’t what they appear and Villa didn’t have the stamina required after regaining the lead. The patterns of play from Arsenal were concerning – there were stretches where you may have forgotten they were playing a man down. There are many ways to say it, but Aston Villa needed a fresh spark or a calmness to enter the field of play. For Arsenal, they got both in the 70th minute as Unai Emery opted to bring on Joe Willock & Lucas Torreira. For Villa, they continued to slowly march on. While Dean Smith is loved and revered by the Aston Villa fanbase, questions must be asked to why he didn’t utilise any of his midfield substitutes once gaining the lead at the Emirates for the second time in the game. At face value, his decision looks like stubbornness. In hindsight, it looks almost embarrassing.
Villa’s tired legs, mental lapses, a lack of threatening play after Arsenal’s red card, questionable use of substitutes and the inclusion of Willock & Torreira created the perfect storm that was aiming right for the hearts of Aston Villa supporters. Tyrone Mings would find himself cheaply clearing the ball in the 81st minute, which has not happened often so far this season, and Calum Chambers would score because of it. Villa yet again blew a lead but Arsenal never looked like they were content with a 2-all draw. Three minutes and zero Villa substitutes after Chambers scored, Villa gave away a free-kick right outside of the penalty area. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rose to the occasion for the Gunners and his effort found it’s way into the back of the net after a small deflection off of Jack Grealish.
It was at this point that Conor Hourihane & Henri Lansbury were brought onto the pitch for Villa.
It goes without saying that Dean Smith is admired greatly as manager of Aston Villa, but this defeat to Arsenal falls at his feet just as equally as it does his players. Smith said after the contest, “I am bitterly disappointed.
We lost our structure for periods in the second half. First half we were on the front foot and looked solid.
It is always going to be a tough game but we will never get a better chance to win.”
Villa may have had a chance to win if their shattered midfield were helped by the introduction of fresh legs when it mattered most. The storm created by Arsenal in the latter stages of the contest was too much for Villa and proved that the learning curve of the Premier League is as steep as you could imagine.