Aston Villa (1) 1 Arsenal (0) 0
Villa Park, Trinity Road, Birmingham B6 6HE
Saturday, 6th February, 2021. Kick-off time: 12.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Mat Ryan; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Cédric Soares; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Nicolas Pépé; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Dani Ceballos, Martin Ødegaard, Willian Borges da Silva, Alex Rúnarsson, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Gabriel Martinelli.
Yellow Cards: Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 66%
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Assistant Referees: Daniel Cook, Constantine Hatzidakis
Fourth Official: Darren England
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR David Coote; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
Because of the events surounding the match at Molineux last Tuesday, we do not have the services of either Bernd Leno nor David Luiz today, so Mat Ryan makes his Premiership debut in goal for us here. Also Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and our loan signing Martin Ødegaard are on the substitutes’ bench this afternoon; in the case of the former, he may still not be ready for full first-team action yet. Let’s go!
Within two minutes of the start, an appalling mix-up between Cédric Soares and Rob Holding led to Ollie Watkins having the most easiest of chances to put the home side one-up. A slow start, and not a great one. However, having said that, the combination between Nicolas Pépé and Emile Smith-Rowe was working well in the early stages, and although we are struggling to get a rhythm going, there are one or two positive signs around out there today. It really is a tough, uncompromising match at Villa Park this afternoon, with both sides struggling to get things moving. The goalkeepers at either end were being tested by the strikers constantly with life-or-death saves being the order of the day here. What is deeply concerning, however, is the ease in which the Villa midfield appear to have, with regards to the ability to open our defence up with incisive balls, and the difficulty in which our back four have in clearing trouble. Just before the half hour, from a free-kick, Granit Xhaka hit an absolute blaster in which former Gunner goalie Emiliano Martinez had difficulty in keeping the ball out of the back of the net. In reply, a few minutes’ later, Bertrand Traoré was denied a goalscoring opportunity when Mat Ryan also made two unbelievable saves in stopping a Villa second goal, which is something we really do not need. Soon afterwards, Rob Holding came close with a superb header from a free-kick, after a bad foul on Bukayo Saka, and it is becoming evident that the home side are an incredibly difficult unit to break down. Just before the break, Nicolas Pépé was desperately unlucky not to score when a right-footed shot from close range flew past the Villa left-hand post. Despite three minutes’ injury-time, and some good movements by Arsenal, we went into half-time one-nil down, sadly.
No changes for us at half-time, so we go into the second half with some concern. And so we should do, too. The home side are applying pressure on us at the opening stages of this half, with several attempts on our goal that were worrying, to say the least. Nicolas Pépé was unlucky not to score (or even hit the target) a few minutes’ later when his tricky shot went just wide of the mark. Ten minutes after the restart, Hector Bellerin was also unlucky not to score, when a left-footed shot was smothered by Emiliano Martinez, and as good as these chances are, we really need someone with the right key to unlock that Villa door. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang replaced Alexandre Lacazette just before the hour, and with the formation staying roughly the same, we have to hope that the return of this popular player will harvest good fruit this afternoon. Cédric Soares was replaced by Martin Ødegaard with twenty-five minutes of the game remaining, and the pattern of our attack has now been shifted to the left-hand side, where there appeared to be a weakness in the Villa team. Willian replaced Thomas Partey after seventy-four minutes, when he was looking like he was carrying an injury, and we still attempted to break down the left-hand side with fresh legs, hoping that something will crack eventually. However, Mat Ryan kept us in the game when he saved a strong shot from Jack Grealish with twelve minutes of the match remaining, and back at the business end for us, the more we try to score, the more it disappears. Martin Ødegaard had a great chance to score with a perfect ball which was handed to him on a plate by Emile Smith-Rowe, but his strong shot went way over the Villa bar. We threw everything bar the kitchen sink at Aston Villa in the remaining minutes of the match (including five minutes’ injury time), but to no avail.
Our two visits in four days to the West Midlands have left us with six valuable points dropped. We went in like lions and came out like lambs at Wolverhampton on Tuesday, but today we were lambs all the way, barring one or two interesting flashpoints. We are undoubtedly becoming the team you cannot trust. How can a team that gain sixty-six per cent possession in a match at this level end up with absolutely nothing? We are now exactly halfway up (or down, depending on your view) the Premiership table, at tenth place, and with Leeds United being our next opponents at home on Valentine’s Day, we need a positive result, and fast.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Leeds United at the Emirates on Sunday, 14th February at 4.30pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
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