Arsenal 0-2 Villa; Love’s Labour Lost

To do good to one’s enemies is love’s labours lost. — Theognis of Megara

This game hurt. Given the context of coming off a week’s rest, of beating United with the same lineup, of playing at home, and of the youth team dismantling Wigan in such sparkling fashion that was perhaps the ugliest Arsenal game I have seen all season.

First, and perhaps most painful, is the fact that the team played without any passion. From the kickoff they looked nervous, uncertain, and very early on made key mistakes that led to yellow cards.  Denilson picked up a yellow in the 10th minute and Fabregas in the 18th, this essentially de-fanged Arsenal’s midfield, true, but is there anyone who watched the match who thought that at any point that Arsenal team might come out and try to put a physical stamp on the match? Try to bully the win from Villa? No. Because this team lacks true passion. They can get geed up for a game, but when push comes to shove, when Agbonlahor knocks one of our players off the ball, no one is there to push back. Losing a game happens, but losing a game and letting the other team push you around because you didn’t give your best, because you caved in and let them push you around? That’s not Arsenal football.

Worse than that, though, is the fact that the Captain of the team is one of the people who can be pushed around. Gallas is more likely to have a hissy fit than to tackle a showboating Nani off the pitch like Flamini did last year. And that’s the second big problem; ok, so let’s all agree that Gallas isn’t captain material, who is? Cesc? ha! If he was captain material he would have shown it by now. In any organization if there is a leadership gap a natural leader will rise and fill that gap — unless there isn’t a natural leader. Who then, Adebayor? Nasri? Denilson? Diaby? Do I have to keep going? Each name is more comical than the next. Arsenal have no leader. Gallas is “leader” only because someone has to wear the captain’s armband.

The third big problem is tactical. I don’t quite think Wenger has lost the plot but he seems to be jumping around from chapter to chapter looking for a story line. It’s pretty clear that Arsenal’s tactic of 70% possession and 9 men in the opponent’s end of the pitch has been found out. Further, it’s clear that this team have no clue as to how to defend corners and set pieces: well, at least Almunia has no clue. Against teams that play open, attacking football, Arsenal are clearly superior. Against teams that invite them to attack, like footballing rope-a-dope, it’s clear that Arsenal are not superior. I’m not sure any team could put 9 men in the opponent’s half, pass the ball around, and expect their defenders to handle the inevitable counter. Sol Campbell couldn’t do it, Senderos couldn’t do it, Toure couldn’t do it, Gallas can’t do it, show me the 6’3″ defender who can clear every set piece, has the pace to catch Agbonlahor and the strength to knock him off the ball at the right moment. I’m not going to pretend that I have even a shred of the tactical genius that Wenger has but I think Arsene Wenger is asking a whole lot of his defenders. The overlapping play is nice and all but Arsenal seem to be sacrificing everything to go forward.

Which brings me to the last problem, the one that we didn’t see yesterday but the one that everyone talks about all the time — Wenger’s reluctance to buy someone. First off, it’s November 16th, in the EPL there are 7 games between now and January, so, unless Arsene buys a free agent (the best of which is Stephen Appiah) the season will be over before he can bring anyone in. Up until last week, I was of the mind that we should let Arsene do whatever he wants to do; Arsene Knows Best and all that. I even said, “well more than any other season this one is an up and down season.”

But I’ve changed my mind — watching Man U, Chelsea, and Liverpool destroy their opposition week in and week out will do that to you.  Chelsea have allowed a stingy 4 goals this season, their goal differential is an insane 28 while Arsenal have allowed a whopping 15 (10 of which were at home). Far from the idea that there has been a contraction in talent this season, rather, more than any other season Arsenal are the ones who look ordinary.

For me, this plainness in the squad comes down to the one position: Fabregas’ water carrier. I have watched Denilson and he is not good enough — Barry showed the gulf in class in that position yesterday. I don’t care what Wenger says, Denilson cannot cope with the most crucial position on this Arsenal team. He’s a good kid and all, he means well, but he’s not able to do it. I have to wonder if Wenger doesn’t already know — all you have to do is look at the fact that Wenger is playing 5 men in the midfield at home games to see that he doesn’t think Denilson can do it.

Put someone in there with Cesc who has fire in his belly, someone who will help control the tempo, someone strong, commanding, and someone who can provide some leadership and this is a very different Arsenal team. Basically, it would be the Arsenal team of last year minus the pointless dribbling of Hleb and plus the goalscoring of Nasri.

So, if I was Wenger, I would sign someone like Appiah, now. Then, I might also change my game plan a bit and play a little less open. Have the defenders not get so far forward. Maybe ask the keeper to come and claim some balls off set pieces. Reign in the radical experiment just a little, because what they are doing right now, just isn’t working. Every team in the EPL has to look at what Hull, Fulham, Sunderland, Stoke, and now Aston Villa has done and be excited to play Arsenal — that has to be seen as love’s labour lost.

Liveblogging Arsenal v. Aston Villa pt. 2

Ok, making some breakfast back in a minute.

47′ Denilson has picked up where he left off I see… how much longer can Arsene Wenger leave him on the pitch? I would put money that he gets sent off before the 60th minute. Bring on Ramsey, he could hardly do worse.

50′ Yeah, bring on Vela… bring on Jesus… BRING ON SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO WIN

52′ Bendtner receives a perfect pass from Cesc, and promptly dumps all over himself. If Denilson is having a nightmare match, Bendtner is the Freddy Krueger of that nightmare.

56′ William Gallas is slotted in by Nasri — that’s how bad they have been up front, Gallas is our most dangerous striker at the moment.

58′ Yes, bring on Adebayor and pray he headbutts Bendtner to death.

61′ Wow… Diaby has been bad but not that bad, but Wenger’s seen enough of this floundering and brings on Our Saviour, Adebayor — the fans like it, they are in full throat singing the Adebayor song.

66′ Mike Riley is having none of it as two Villa players haul down Theo. I haven’t mentioned it yet but Thoe is having a run of poor games and this one is no exception.

68′ Finally! Arsenal’s hairstyles just got moire conservative as Wenger has seen enough of Bendter and brings on Vela. Things should get more open up front now.

69′ 1-0 to Villa — Clichy own goal. Clichy is the new Senderos.

70′ So, Mike Riley stops play on their end when one of their players feigns injury and when Sagna is actually injured (requiring a stretcher) Riley allows Villa to play on.

71′ Adebayor with Arsenal’s best chance, pawed away by Friedle

71′ Toure on for Sagna — Matt, Mike Riley is a cunt.

76′ Agbonlahor handles the ball, in front of Riley, stops playing because he knows he handled ball — the call from Riley?  Play on. Of course, it’s easy to blame Riley, but really Villa deserve the win at this point, they look so much better the squad.

80′ Agbonlahor just beat the pants off Gallas, after Mike Riley fails to award a clear free kick and Mike Riley has ensured that Arsenal are fighting for a place in the Champions League. 2-0 to the Villans.

85′ Even if, by some miracle, Arsenal manage to save a point this performance has to go down as proof that any team… ANY TEAM can beat Arsenal at home.

90′ And Mike Riley adds 4 minutes… whipty fucking doo — maybe Clichy can get another “goal”

93′ Cesc is casually nudged off the ball — that’s it Arsenal are beaten emotionally and physically.  What will Wenger’s response be? “We can still win the championship.” “This team is young.” “That was the same lineup against United.”

Villa get their first win against Arsenal wince 1998… congrats to them.

Timmy’s final thoughts

That was a poor performance. Very poor all around, we can blame the ref, we can blame the squad’s “inexperience” but honestly Villa deserved that win. Arsenal can’t defend headers AND they have problems with speedy attackers. Villa played hard, closed space, and got their tactics spot on closing down wings and forcing everything to the middle. But worse than the manager’s inflexibility in tactics and the squad’s defensive woes or even more than Villa’s determination it looks like this team just gives up. Every other match they just seem to play without any passion and this was no exception.

Time for Wenger to sort this squad out. Personally, I’d sit Cesc, Denilson, Walcott, Bendtner, and Gallas until they proved that they want to play. In their stead, I see no reason not to start the youth players.

Is that crazy? At this point, Arsenal really have nothing to lose.

See you tomorrow for The Good, Bad, and Ugly.

Liveblogging Arsenal v. Aston Villa pt. 1

Good morning!

A quick glance at the news reports this morning has Almunia and Adebayor healthy to face the Villans (but you knew that yesterday, if you read the blog). Fiery Jack is being tipped to play in the 2010 world cup — that’s not too soon is it? Gah… what is it about the psyche of the British people that they are constantly putting this type of pressure on children? They did it with Wayne Looney, Theo Walcott, and now Fiery Jack… dudes… give it a rest!

Arsenal will take on Burnley at, whatever the name of their stadium is, in the Carling Cup. Interestingly, Stoke, Tottenham and Man U all have ties that they should win as well. That means that if everything goes according to the odds, Arsenal could face three teams that I’d love to see this youth team beat. Of course, first things first: gotta beat Burnley.

One last thing… Arsene has said Eduardo could be back in two weeks. According to my calculations, that’s the League match against Chelsea. Hmm… I laughed when someone predicted that he’d come of the bench against Chelsea and now it looks like that prediction may come true.

Ok, lineup… looks like a 4-5-1 with Diaby coming in again, Nasri and Walcott out wide, Denilson and Cesc in the middle, Almunia in the sticks, Bendtner up front, and Silvestre paired with Gallas at the back.

Right, be back for kickoff.  UP THE ARSE!

Kickoff — Woo HOoOo! 7am kickoff!

1st minute — OK… uhh, SHAKY START, plus Mike Riley is the ref.

4′ Theo is absolutely destroying his marker Denilson plays him in and Theo makes a great pass that is wasted as it went in toward the hapless Bendtner.

5′ Almunia looks uncertain as Silvestre plays the ball back to him and he simply refuses to come out and claim it. It goes across for a Villa corner. UGH. I’m very quickly becoming tired of Almunia.

8′ I love your optimism Matt…

10′ Denilson gets a yellow for a horribly mistimed tackle. I want the same yellow when Gareth Barry does that to Arsenal.

14′ This is odd, Arsenal are playing long balls up to the increasingly useless Bendtner. Route 1 football from the team that — hey, some good movement and passing sees a shot on goal from Cesc spilled by Friedel and a drop ball after the whistle blows for an “injury”

18′ Mike Riley awards a penalty and gives Cesc a yellow for his late tackle (that happened earlier), Young steps up and ALMUNIA SAVES!!! I LOVE ALMUNIA!

OK — the problem is that Arsenal look to be on the ropes here. Regroup, pull your heads out of your asses and put this team under.

23′ Villa is dominating the midfield right now as evidenced by the fact that both of our central midfielders have yellows.

25′ Diaby could have gotten a yellow for a high boot that draws blood from the forehead of the Villa defender. I really want to see the penalty again… it looked like Theo won the ball but that’s probably just sour grapes on my part, Theo didn’t complain.

28′ I have pinpointed the problem with Bendtner, he is sporting some kind of rat tail hairstyle. Never trust a man with a rat tail.

30′ Denilson is having a nightmare against Sidwell and Young. Young makes a mazy run right through the center of the park and Denilson’s response was to try to trip him. Fortunately, Denilson is having sunch a bad day that he missed his trip or he would have been sent off.  Unfortunately, this means that Denilson is still on the pitch.

35′ A whole sale change is needed at this point, take Bendtner off, take Denilson off — Arsenal escape again after getting opened up by Villa Barry’s shot is directly at Almunia. Villa deserve this match at this point. Arsenal look like they are turning in one of “those” performances.

43′ What’s left to say? Arsenal are playing like a 7th place club. This is horrible.

If you haven’t reached for the cyanide you can catch the second half over here.