Villa 2-2 Arsenal: The Good, Bad, and this is Getting Frustrating.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: A Knight’s Tale

The Guardian: It almost never snows at Christmas but sometimes you still get a proper Boxing Day match with all the trimmings: the woodwork shuddering, the managers squaring up to each other, a couple of pickpocket goals for a side that had looked as though it was heading for humiliation, equality re-established in injury-time from the most unlikely of sources and every member of a crowd of 42,585 going home both entertained and consoled.

Quote of the Day

“I think we have to keep the belief we have in the squad, because we have played Villa, Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool and lost just once. We have improved in the last two months tremendously, and we look more solid. We are young and I think the same team today with one year more, would not let Villa come back.” — Arsene Wenger on next year’s title race conveniently forgets that Arsenal have also lost to Hull, Citeh, Fulham, Stoke, and Villa.

The Good

In the first half, the woodwork put in a massive effort and was by far Arsenal’s best defender.

Ok, that’s not fair. Gallas put in some really good blocks, Silvestre’s massive noggin saved a goal, and if you didn’t see Sagna’s incredible save watch it here courtesy of the Arsenalist.

Then Arsenal went up 2-0, totally against the run of play. I was just sitting there thinking, “oh god Denilson and Song are having a nightmare” when Denilson puts in a good tackle, in an important part of the pitch, latches on to the ball and scores a good individual goal. Who knew?

And then, right after the restart Diaby scores a second goal. After about 20 minutes in to the match, I ordered a beer and had it there in front of me so that I could take a drink every time Diaby tried some cute little pass/dummy that resulted in a turn over.  Drink, drink, drink, JESUS, drink, drink, holy crap, what the hell is he doing? Wait???!!?!?! Diaby scores! Yes, it was like that.

Then for the next 12 minutes Arsenal looked like they were going to score a third. No more so than in the 61st minute when the ball bounced around inside the box and Villa enjoyed some of the same luck that Arsenal had in the first half.

And then…

The Bad

Arsenal went from 2-0 to a 2-2 draw and had to watch Aston Villa’s players celebrate like they has just won the Champions League. Where have we seen that before? Oh yeah, when Tottenham came back and pinned 4 goals on Arsenal.

The Ugly

Arsene Wenger is a poor loser. Of course, every other manager in the league is as well (look no further than Fergie) and honestly I expect no less from the manager of a big club. It’s his job to ask questions of the officials and stand up for his players on the sidelines. So, I really can’t stand listening to other team’s fans talk about what a poor loser Arsene is. So what? I’d rather have a poor loser than someone who gleefully accepts losses.

That said, some of Arsene’s antics are getting a bit old. The dust up between Wenger and O’Neill is one example, though that seems to have been settled when the two were asked to shake hands like two little kids fighting over who gets to play with the bucket in the sandbox. But Wenger just had to go a step further after the match and criticize all the officials in all of England.

What doesn’t make any sense is that there are officials, Howard Webb, who consistently call matches against Arsenal, that’s a fact, but unfortunately this is not one of those officials and this match was not poorly officiated. So why Arsene felt the need to say

I know how it works here, at half-time the referee gets stick and in the second half every little 50-50 decision goes the other way. That’s what happens. I waited at half-time to see what happened and I was not disappointed. There is nothing to explain more than that.

Dude… DOOD… I can’t think of a really bad call that any of the refs made. Not a single one. That tackle that Gallas put in on Agbonlahor? That was a foul. That was a clear penalty. I’ve seen it dozens of times and there is no fault there on the part of the ref. Gallas was just poor in the tackle. And moreover, Gallas didn’t need to make the tackle, he had two defenders helping in the middle. That was vintage Arsenal “defense” and no amount of biased reffing was going to save us from ourselves.

But worse, I can’t figure out what was he trying to accomplish with those remarks. If his goals was to get a touchline ban, a fine, and worse, every official in England is making calls against Arsenal, then mission accomplished. You don’t get on the officials’ good side by calling them all cheaters.

Final Thoughts

I joked about the woodwork being Arsenal’s best defender in the first section there, but let’s face it; Arsenal’s defense is dreadful. Up 2-0 with 5 outright defenders and 2 defensive midfielders on the pitch they still played the same ball-holdery, high line, “attacking” football that has been the hallmark of this failed first half of the season. Up 2-0 in the 65th minute Arsenal should have just held on. Any team that considers themselves champion quality needs to be able to hold on to a lead and this team just cannot do it.

The first goal was a horrible, horrible tackle by the guy who is supposed to be Arsenal’s best defender. Now, before I light into Gallas let me just say that in the first half, he WAS Arsenal’s best defender and showed why people think of him as world class. The problem is that as good as he was in the first, he was equally bad in the second. In fact, the only reason people are holding on to the notion that Gallas is a good defender is because the rest of the team (barring Sagna) are so defensively dreadful, they make Gallas look like a good player.

Don’t just take my word for it, this Arsenal team is worse, defensively, than Fulham and equal to the laughable defense that is Tottenham. Tottenham, the defensive joke of the EPL.

Defense wins championships. Defense was the key to every trophy that Arsenal has ever won. Somehow, Arsene has lost sight of this fact and now thinks he can turn this club into the Dallas Mavericks of the EPL. The Mavericks were famous for putting on offensive displays unparalleld in the NBA. People called their basketball “beautiful,” “flowing,” “magnificent,” and all the other adjectives you’ve heard to describe Arsenal, and you know how many NBA titles they won with that? Zero. Because when push came to shove, more balanced teams could hold on to a lead and the Dallas Mavericks could not. Just like this Arsenal team can not.

Similarly, the fans of both teams feel a tremendous injustice is done to them whenever one of their players are out-muscled for the ball. Both teams complained that the referee’s were against them (which has the kernel of truth) and neither team will win a championship as long as they have a defense that cannot hold on to a lead.

Can Wenger explain how Arsenal are going to beat Roma with a defense that leaks goals? They have to see that display and be licking their chops ready to come to the Emirates and get that crucial away goal… or two.

No, Arsene, this is not a championship quality team. When you have 6 outright defenders on the pitch and two defensive midfielders (neither of who could be arsed to track back and cover Zat Knight) and you can’t hold on to a 2-0 lead there are serious problems.

Given his post match comments about how this team is “so close” to being Champs, you have to wonder if Arsene just doesn’t get it.

Well, the boys head home for a matchup with Arsenal on the Coast on Sunday. Kickoff is 6am local time and Doyle’s is playing the match live. I expect to see all you locals there on Sunday. Yesterday I was surrounded with 20 hostile anti-supporters and was all alone supporting Arsenal. Get out and support the team no matter where you live.


12 Responses to “Villa 2-2 Arsenal: The Good, Bad, and this is Getting Frustrating.”

  1. 1 caribkid
    December 27, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Have to say you summed it up very well Timothy, it would be fruitless for me to add any more despair to the situation.

  2. 2 john
    December 27, 2008 at 8:52 am

    scott parker in? surely worth a try.

  3. 3 Lee
    December 27, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Yeah, well said mate!

    I’ve been sobbing through many posts today looking to console myself by airing my views…

    Somehow I just feel worse…

    Damn you Arsenal!!!

    P.s I still luv ya!

  4. 4 Lee
    December 27, 2008 at 9:22 am

    BTW: Is anyone else sick to the back teeth of Wenger’s cup of BULL SH*T he keeps feeding us after every defeat. Or win for that matter?

  5. December 27, 2008 at 9:40 am

    I’m tired of the line that these are just “young kids” or whatever. Imagine if a manager said “well, we have a team of right footed players, next year I expect they will be able to use their left foot as well… give them time” after EVERY STINKING MATCH.

    I’d like to see him admit that the defense is bad and then I’d like to see him extend an invitation to Keown and Adams to come in and organize the defense. Unfortunately, this means Arsenal need to fire whoever is currently “organizing” this mess.

    The only problem I can see with my above statement is that it’s entirely possible that Wenger himself is to blame for the defense. He may the one saying that all they need is offense: in which case no amount of Adams’ and Keown’s will solve the problem. And worse, no amount of buying in January will solve the problem either. Because you could bring in the three best defenders in the world and if Arsenal insist on attacking, ball holding, and playing an insane high line those defenders will be exposed just like Campbell, Senderos, Gallas, Toure, Clichy, and every other Arsenal defender has been exposed.

    This is a mess. Arsenal have a grip (he he, a grip!) of talent, in fact, it’s the talent that’s got us anywhere near 4th place, but the tactics and lack of buying is really destroying that talent. Instead of buying real wide players, Arsenal ask Clichy and Sagna to do it. Instead of buying a destroyer in the midfield, Toure, Gallas, and Djourou get all the blame.

    It will take a Wenger genius buy to fix this because whoever Arsenal get in January, they will have the double burden of fixing this completely broken squad and shouldering all of our expectations.

  6. December 27, 2008 at 10:02 am

    I’m not buying your completely broken squad line. Yesterday the team started without seven players who AW might realistically have expected to pick at the end of December. Djourou (excellent in recent matches), Clichy, Cesc, Rosickyk, Adebayor, Walcott and Eduardo (OK, Eduardo was a stretch). Toure did start but looked like he’d been out for at leat six weeks (which he had). Add these seven (eight if Toure’s on form) to the mix and you don’t have a broken squad. Even without several, you have a team capable of beating the best.

    Arsene WILL buy in January. I expect Gallas will leave, so a centre back to play beside JD 20 will be a priority. He’ll also buy a mid-fielder to provide cover for Cesc in the short term and be there when Cesc returns. This season was always going to be a challenge. Obvious from day one. That doesn’t mean that AW should have gone to loony land like Fergie and paid $32M for Berbatoss (fewer goals than Ade or Robin) or $20M for Kean (ditto).

    We have a great young squad. Thank you Arsene. You are THE BEST.

  7. December 27, 2008 at 10:39 am

    So, a team missing 7 players isn’t broken? You don’t think that Arsenal losing every world class center back they have had each year for the last 4 years isn’t a sign of something broken?

    And more important, why are they missing 7 players? It’s not just bad luck. It’s the way Arsenal play. If you play “defense” by keeping possession, teams are going to pressure the ball, if teams pressure the ball, it forces the decision into the hands of the referee. In this case, the refs are English and they value hard tackles and letting players pressure the ball. So, Arsenal players get hurt more often than others.

    As T-Town Alex puts it: it’s the most expensive form of defense.

    Moreover, Arsenal now have the same defensive record as Tottenham. I’d say that’s about as broken as a team can get.

    Sorry, I love Arsene Wenger, I will always respect what he’s done, but this team? This one? It’s broken.

  8. 8 caribkid
    December 27, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Bergkamp, both Eduardo and Rosicky are stretches and Clichy was not injured but left on the bench by Arsene. Fact is, our defense is totally broken and we are allowing goals at an unprecedented rate due to injuries, insane tactical formation and pairings, and a MF which provides very little cover for the back four. We may not be able to account for injuries at all times, but Arsene has total control over the many other factors.

    BTW, Walcott, Ade and Eduardo do not play defense.

  9. 9 Keith Barham
    December 27, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    The “young” excuse is not wearing thin, it has broken through completely.

    I watched in shock as a two goal lead vanished yesterday. It is not the first time and it will happen again unless serious changes are made in January. Watching Arsenal pass and score is beautiful, although seeing opposition goals leak in tempers my enjoyment. Investing in improving the side now is key. We will lose far more income if European football does not happen.

    I am sounding no panic alarm, although this is a pivotal period that may determine the path of the team for the next several seasons.

  10. 10 barnaby
    December 27, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    @bgm, a manager is judged not only on what he’s done, but where he’s going. Since Dein left Wenger appears to have no one to answer to or guide him when things are getting out of hand. A great young squad falling down the table can only be perceived as a good thing by a tiny minority of fans.

    Wenger must buy soon, but to restore the squad that he is currently managing out of the top four he needs to bring in experience that can calm things down and lead a team bereft of direction. To my view, no player we have in the squad would have prevented yesterday’s collapse. The overall lingering impression of yesterday’s game was one of inexperience and an extremely thin squad. Ramsey did everything to burnish Song’s importance. Wenger appears, rather unnecessarily, risking his reputation by hoping the squad comes good and is capable of winning things, while expecting fans to continue to pay to watch ‘transition’ indefinitely.

    I believe we have some very good players, but as a whole this squad, as is, is destined to fall short because the mix of players is not very good, just look at yesterday’s result. We have some very good individual players, but there are glaring deficiencies.

    Nasri hardly touched the ball yesterday as reo coker just nudged him off of everything. The team has to work incredibly hard to be effective at all and will inevitably get tired at the end of matches. Villa did not seem to get tired, and Deni is a good player but there are many weaknesses inherent in his game(tackling), to make up for this we have other players who don’t like a tackle(most of the squad). Diaby, great when he moves forward, not a single tackle he made that I could recall. These are just some examples but I think they bring some light to the real issues here. I think individually, yes, we have quality, when put together, there’s something missing. A great young squad, yes, but a great young squad capable of winning anything, I’m afraid not. Instead, we’re likely in a season long dog fight for fourth.

  11. December 27, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Diaby’s more likely to get a red card than win the ball in a tackle.

  12. 12 Chris
    December 28, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Timothy: I, too, am a Dallas Mavericks fan. I agree with all of the similarities.

    Secondly, nobody buys the inexperience argument. We have plenty of experience. I still claim that we are as talented as anybody, but we’re lacking one thing…confidence. Can you really tell me that Liverpool are more talented than us. No, but right now their confidence is sky high. At the beginning of last year we went on a great run which fuelled our confidence, which helped to continue our run, which fuelled our confidence, etc. A couple bad results in the spring tore down the confidence, and we came up just short. This season we’ve never regained that swagger and have never put together a run of results to swell our confidence. I don’t think buying in and of itself will help, but it might be a way to boost the mentality of the team.

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