Arsenal stumbled to a draw with a hard working Aston Villa side on a cold rainy night in Birmingham in a game which lacked tactical interest. Both teams didn’t create many chances and the game was overall very sloppy. Another lack-luster performance will be sure to leave The Boss and gooners everywhere disappointed with the lack of end product.
With a mid-week fixture against Everton coming up, Wenger decided to rotate by resting Bacary Sanga, Jack Wilshere, and Thomas Vermaelen. They were replaced by Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, and Kieran Gibbs – the latter making his return to the first team after being out with injury.
Tactical Battle or Lack Thereof
As sometimes is the case with Arsenal and Wenger’s tendency to differentiate from his preferred tactical system, games can sometimes become static tactically. This was the case today as Arsenal played their normal 4-2-3-1 system and Aston Villa going for 4-5-1. As usual Arsenal tried to keep the ball and play through the opposition and Villa stayed organised, man-marked in the midfield, pressed hard and counter-attacked.
Villa deserve credit for their work rate but Arsenal can also reflect after the game and be disappointed with the way they played. Plus, even though Arsenal were poor, Wenger must also take some of the blame for not really having a plan B. His failure to adapt has cost us points before and his tactical knowledge will be put to the test this year as it become clear that this team isn’t as talented as teams in years past.
It’s the same old story, isn’t it? Failure to adapt to opposition behaviour and/or strategies means we’re easy to deal with. High pressure and disciplined positioning seems to be the key to restricting Arsenal, and those instructions are easy even for lower league teams to apply. We only shine when opposition teams think they don’t have to reduce themselves to this simple strategy – see Tottenham or Southampton. How long can Wenger rely on opposition managers straying from the one gameplan that works? It’s amazing to me that a manager of Wenger’s level can be so blind to the need for a Plan B. Rooney man-marking Arteta at Old Trafford is a perfect example of when adapting tactics is a good idea, moving him to another position would disrupt the instruction and tip the balance back in our favour. How Wenger doesn’t understand this is beyond me.
What Went Wrong
Despite the lack of tactical variety and action in this match, I would like to offer some insight as to why the system isn’t working and why the team isn’t playing well at the moment.
Today once again we lacked a player consistently in the hole. Olivier Giroud is a target man who likes to occupy the two centerbacks with is strength, aerial ability, and movement. And to be at his best, he needs a player in the hole to support him. This position is normally occupied by Santi Cazorla, however, teams have picked up on his weakness which is his size. This means that many are just man marking him and being physical so he can’t influence the game. As a result, he looks for space laterally in the channels expecting that a wide player or another midfield player will move into the space he has created by moving wide.
The problem again today was that no one was there to exploit the space and link with Giroud. Once again Ramsey also looked for space laterally instead of vertically and it left Giroud isolated. As a result he looked to drop deep to link with the team and before you know it we had all our players in front of the Villa back line. Then the team became static and its hard to play pass and move football without the move.
This may be Arsene Wenger’s least talented side of his 16 years at the club. If we indeed do finish in the top four, it will be one of Arsene’s biggest triumphs at the club. This season will test him tactically and it will be interesting to see if he adapts (he won’t /Ix).