Goals: Cazorla (5), Weimann (68), Cazorla (85)
Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Jenkinson (RB), Vermaalen (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Monreal (LB), Wilshere (CM) Arteta (CM), Diaby (CM), Walcott (RF), Cazorla(LF), Giroud (CF).
Santi Cazorla’s winner 5 minutes from time gave Arsenal much needed 3 points against Aston Villa after two consecutive cup defeats in the past week.
Arsenal started the game with good movement and found an early goal for a change. A tidy move started by Diaby and Wilshere found Cazorla on the left edge of the box. The Spaniard attempted to thread a ball towards the 6 yard box which was blocked. He chested down the rebound, set himself up with good work with his left foot and fired with his right to the far corner to beat Guzan.
The early goal brought Villa into the game with the visitors looking quite dangerous on the break. They chose Arsenal’s left flank as a point of weakness and attempted to break primarily through that area. As Cazorla was drifting narrow to combine with Wilshere in Arsenal’s build-up and Monreal pushing up, Arsenal’s left did indeed look exposed, and the visitors exploited this especially with Weimann and N’Zogbia. When Wilshere lost possession in Villa’s half, Villa quickly released N’Zogbia in acres of space on Arsenal’s left. The Frenchman cut inside Vermaalen and set Agbonlahor for a shot which was parried away by Szczesny with some difficulty. Minutes later, Agbonlahor’s wonderful diagonal ball found Weimann in the same area, and his dangerous ball across the 6-yard box could not find a finish.
In a recent article on Wesley Sneijder, Jonathan Wilson refers to the Dutch playmaker as a player now belonging to a different time and place, which, he says, is 25 years ago in Argentina. The first half of this game also belonged to that same pre-Makelele era when teams played without any concern to protect the area in front of their back four. Whenever Villa or Arsenal lost the ball in the opposition half, they both were able to reach each other’s penalty box without facing any resistance on their way. It was end to end stuff which was surely enjoyable for the neutrals, but the openness of the game was personally a little uncomfortable viewing for me, given Arsenal’s ability to gift goals out of nowhere. For a team that has taken an early lead, it was curious that Arsenal did not control the game by keeping a good shape, leaving themselves open to Villa counterattacks.
The diagram above gives an idea about the lack of protection in front of Arsenal’s back four in the first half when they lost the ball in Villa’s half. Arsenal had 8 (out of 10) succesful tackles in the first half, but the location of the tackles (the left panel in the diagram) indicates that almost all tackles took place after Villa broke and reached to the final third. In contrast, Arsenal had 9 (out of 9) succesful tackles in the second half and 5 of those took place deep in Villa half indicating Villa’s relative difficulty to break easily in the second half. Overall, especially in the first half, the Arteta-Diaby double anchor was not able to display the defensive mobility and share of responsibility to stop the counterattacks before they reached the final third. This point seems to be the main area of weakness that the team should improve before the next week’s North London Derby as Spurs have the players in Bale and Lennon to exploit this lack of protection on Arsenal’s flanks when the team pushes forward.
Arsenal kept looking for the second goal in the second half, but they were denied mostly due to their failure in the final ball with Walcott, Giroud and Wilshere failing to deliver the killer pass or the final touch. Cazorla was working like a wizard, dropping inside from his wide left position to pop up everywhere, continuously trying to make things happen, showing some true hunger and desire. His attacking dashboard below tells the story of how busy and effective the Spaniard was throughout the game.
The counterattack equalizer that Villa signaled all throughout the first half, though, came in the 68th minute before Arsenal could find their second goal. Weimann cleared the loose ball inside Villa box after another fruitless Arsenal corner, and started running towards Arsenal’s half like a possessed man. Jenkinson’s headed clearance fell short and Benteke headed the ball towards Weimann who had reached to the halfway line by that time. The Austrian raced forward with Arsenal defenders caught 3 on 3 and retreating, and fired a decent shot from 25 yards. Szczesny should have saved it simply because he saw it all the way and there was no swirl on the shot, but the ball went past his reach into the net.
At that point in the game, Wenger had already replaced the injured Diaby with Ramsey. He sent in Podolski taking off Jenkinson and moved Ramsey to the right back position. Wilshere dropped deeper to pair with Arteta, Cazorla moved to advanced CM and Podolski went left wide. With Ramsey pushing up from the right back position and helping the build-up, Arsenal poured down on Villa in what looked like a 3-3-1-3 formation. Lambert made also some changes but he replaced like for like, showing his intention to look for a winner. Yet, Villa had to retreat back with Arsenal increasing the tempo, pressing hard and creating a flurry of chances. Twice, Podolski should have been more alert when Walcott played good cutbacks into the 6 yard box. Giroud’s header hit the bar after a Cazorla corner. Arsenal finally found the winner when a glorious ball from Wilshere released Monreal behind the Villa defense and Cazorla expertly finished his compatriot’s cutback.