Five positives Arsenal can take from Villa defeat

Saturday’s dismal 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa at the Emirates was nothing short of disaster to Arsenal’s opening to the Premier League season but, as they say, every cloud…

Jenny Leigh outlines why Gooners should stay positive...

1) Signings

I’m sure Gunners fans won’t thank me for reminding them that two years ago in August 2011, Arsenal suffered an 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford at the hands of Manchester United and Arsene Wenger went out on deadline day as the transfer window closed to bring in new signings.

It went right up to the wire after they sold Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, along with Emmanuel Eboue and Gael Clichy. Wenger brought in Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young and Mikel Arteta – whilst the success rate was half and half, he did dip his hand in his pocket, at least.

This time around, he is under pressure like never before – he has to appease the fans or things will only go from bad to worse. The Villa game will likely force the impetus to get serious about transfers before it really is too late.

2) Injuries

Whilst injuries can never be considered a positive outcome, we saw back in January that injury to Kieran Gibbs forced Wenger go out and bring in Nacho Monreal from Malaga – the injury literally forced his hand into his pocket.

Serious injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could be out for between three and six months unfortunately for the youngster, means Wenger will likely bring in an attacking midfielder.

Bacary Sagna’s horrific fall and Kieran Gibbs’s head injury leaves Arsenal with only the bare bones of a makeshift backline as they head out to Istanbul for their Champions League qualifier with Fenerbahce on Wednesday. It’s too late to register any newcomers for that game, but I would expect there to be reinforcements brought in at the back.

Ashley Williams’ name is still being thrown around – I think at this point the fans would take anyone with two legs and a pair of boots. I can’t see how Wenger can possibly go into a season with one fit fullback and one fit and available centre-back for the next league game. That would be professional suicide.

3) Tactics

It was a strange game indeed – Arsenal dominated possession as they always do, they had more clear-cut chances as usual but they rarely looked dangerous and they were wasteful which, in recent years, has become the script for most of their defeats.

Tomas Rosicky missed a couple of very good opportunities and I think it’s clear that they were lacking quality in the final third. Santi Cazorla only just got off the plane from Ecuador after very little pre-season build-up and Jack Wilshere looked rusty as well as being marked and kicked out the game, effectively.

The Gunners were caught out once again on the break by Villa and they were punished for playing such a high line. Wenger never really changes or adapts his system but Arsenal, for all their pre-season triumphs, were exposed against Aston Villa.

They played with little intensity and seemed to slow the play after their opening goal as if they expected the remaining 83 minutes to be a stroll in the park. They were harshly penalized for a number of challenges, rightly so for a couple of late ones too, but if they had been pressing and keeping their shape they wouldn’t have conceded those fouls through haste and rashness.

There must be an admission that the boss and the team got the system and the focus all wrong on Saturday. They ought to revert to their strategy in Munich against Bayern and focus on ball retention and organization first and then build from that foundation. That's the system and focus that got them fourth place last term with their unbeaten run-in.

4) Missed Chances

Again, with reference to the Bayern Munich win last term, they simply can’t afford to be as wasteful as they were on Saturday. Despite the dubious penalty decisions Arsenal could have scored three or even four – they had the chances.

Rosicky had a couple, Theo Walcott had a decent chance with an almost open goal to aim at and they were wasteful from set pieces too. They never looked threatening from corners and they showed no real urgency at 1-1 to take the three points. They left it too late, at 2-1 even with 11 men they lacked imagination and they weren’t getting enough men forward to aim at in the box.

Whilst their wastefulness may not seem like a positive, the defeat and especially one of that nature, will teach them a lesson – the defeat at White Hart Lane last term galvanized them when they went to Munich and they redeemed themselves with a show of courage, commitment and efficiency.

Saturday will have taught them to take their chances wherever and however they can get them and then find the killer instinct to kill the game off rather than rest on their laurels at 1-0. It will have reminded them they cannot afford to be complacent, which their pre-season tour fixtures may well have deluded them into thinking they can get away with taking their foot off the pedal.

5) Spirit

Finally, the biggest positive the team can take from the weekend’s result is to use it to spur them on in midweek – they’ll have to come out fighting and they’ll be hurting. They’ll want to use the game in Turkey to bounce back. It’s not normally a positive but I think it’ll help them to play away from the Emirates.

The atmosphere in the ground is not great at the moment and whilst that is aimed primarily at the board and the management, the players still feel it and they are ultimately the receptacles of that negativity. I think getting out of the country for a couple of days and fostering an ‘us against the world’ mentality will do them the world of good and a victory in Istanbul is just what the doctor ordered for Arsenal’s ills.

Are you positive?

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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