Result: Aston Villa 1 – 0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 6 Feb 2021
Venue: Villa Park
Arsenal: Ryan, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric, Xhaka, Partey, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Saka, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Chambers, Mari, Elneny, Ceballos, Odegaard, Willian, Martinelli, Aubameyang
Arsenal provided an underwhelming performance at Villa Park to lose 1-0 to an organised Aston Villa side. The home team went ahead within the first minute through Watkins after a mix up between Cedric and Gabriel.
The Gunners couldn’t find a way around a solid Aston Villa defence as they slumped to their second league defeat in a row.
Arsenal featured a largely unchanged side from the last game against Wolves with the only exceptions being the inclusion of Ryan and Gabriel in place of the suspended Leno and Luiz.
Captain Aubameyang made the bench as he slowly returns to fitness after time away from training due to family matters.
It was an inauspicious start for Arsenal as Villa went 1-0 up within the first minute. The home side started at a good pace and had their long pass cleared by Gabriel. Cedric received the ball and made a weak lay off towards Gabriel. The ball was intercepted and crossed in for Ollie Watkins whose shot was deflected off Holding and spun past debutant, Mat Ryan, to register the first goal of the match. 1-0 Villa
The next 25 minutes were rather uneventful with both teams cancelling each other out in the respective final thirds. Bellerin was often closely marking Grealish while Villa made rotational fouls on Saka to hinder any attacking play by Arsenal. Those cynical fouls on Saka brought yellow cards for Konsa and Nakamba.
It wasn’t until the 28th minute when Arsenal made their first proper attempt on goal. Xhaka powered a well-taken free kick from the right hand side towards the top corner only for Emi Martinez to push it out for a corner.
Worryingly, Villa countered from that very corner with Traore turning Holding out too easily and tried to chip the ball past Ryan who stood up well to palm the ball away. Barkley’s follow up strike was quickly blocked by Gabriel.
Arsenal went a bit closer towards the end of the first half with a couple of blocked shots and a right footed attempt by Pepe going wide but the team had to up the tempo in the second half to reverse the result at Villa Park.
Despite the lack of cutting edge, questions also had to be asked of the referee who was very lenient with the many fouls made by the Villa players with Konsa’s late tackle (who was already on a yellow) through the back of Lacazette outside of the box and Grealish’s push on Saka among the many events that went unpunished.
The second half started at a fast pace for both teams though Aston Villa looked the more dangerous of the teams. They had more cutting edge when making chances and had a few shots on goal within the first 10 minutes with Ryan called upon to save Arsenal’s blushes.
Arsenal were not to be deterred, pushing more bodies into the Villa box during their attacks. Their new found spirit saw Pepe come close on 52 minutes as he was supported in attacked by Saka, Lacazette and Smith Rowe. The Ivorian could only shoot wide with his right foot after a quick dribble while Smith Rowe made a similar attempt just minutes later only to have his shot blocked by Mings.
By then, the Gunners were in ascendancy as they piled on the pressure and Bellerin was often left unmarked as he underlapped within the inner right channel. The faster paced game demanded a fleet footed striker and Lacazette made way for Aubameyang 58 minutes in. Odegaard came on a few minutes later for Cedric.
Odegaard’s inclusion helped improve some of the build up play in the middle of the park while Saka’s move to left back provided great overlapping opportunities alongside a rampaging Pepe as Arsenal searched for a goal. This momentum was stunted a little when Partey had to come off with what looked like a recurrence of his injury. Willian came on in his place.
Arsenal huffed and puffed but never looked to be able to break down Aston Villa’s organised defence. Odegaard had a decent chance from the middle of the box which just went over the bar after a good cutback from Saka though the Gunners had to contend with a few close shaves with Villa’s counters.
That was the closest the Arsenal got to scoring a goal in an overall underwhelming performance. Despite the recent uptick in performance and results the last few weeks, this match showed that Arteta has his work cut out to bring some consistency to his team’s overall play.