Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 2: May the fourth place be with us

Last updated : 15 November 2008 By Brian Dawes
You may recall we grabbed a late, late equaliser last season when Nik scored deep into added time. The hope had been that today's game would be somewhat different, coming as it did off the back of two great results achieved by the first team and our future first team in what had been a pretty exciting week.

Van Persie, Eboue, Rosicky and Eduardo were still unavailable but everyone else seemed to be fit enough to be considered for this match. So a stronger bench than of late looked very healthy and comprised Fabianski, Song, Toure, Vela, Adebayor, Ramsey and Djourou. After a brief chat with Shovell about his fabulous badge of the famous Clock, he too sits in block 15, I sat down in eager anticipation of another fine performance.

The match was reasonably even in the first half with Villa if anything having more shots and chances than Arsenal. Riley booked both our holding midfield players before we'd played twenty minutes. Both I believe for their first fouls. It didn't help us that he seemed determined not to book a Villa player at all if could get away with it. Barry for example committed foul after foul before getting a long overdue card as late as the 55th minute. His lino was also pretty inept but not as inept as the foul by Walcott that lead to a Villa penalty. It was also at this point that Cesc picked up his fifth yellow of the season for an earlier foul on Barry who was forced to go off following treatment. Which is why Young got to take a fairly poor penalty that was well saved by Almunia. A let off you might say, but what a meal Young had made of his dive in the box. It looked a pen from my seat but they often don't get given when they're so over dramatic.

This game saw our lone striker even more isolated than usual. Bendtner had to contend with three, sometimes four defenders whenever he received the ball and he did this with almost a total lack of support. The balls he received were never easy to control in quite windy conditions but the support he received was minimal, he wasn't all that but playing by yourself is never easy. We never got at Villa, we never creamed them on the flanks and we powder-puffed our way down the middle of the park without penetrating. While at the other end Agbonlahor was giving our men a two yard start and beating them for pace. Villa worked harder than us for most of the game, they had a plan to defend well and break fast which worked a treat. They also had a plan to close our space quickly and waste time when they could, for which Friedel was booked just before half time.

I'm convinced that because we hurdle so many attempted fouls we receive far fewer free kicks than we should. An attempted foul is still a foul, though never seemingly given. That said if we fail to outmuscle the opposition we can blame no-one but our selves for not winning the right to play football. We rarely played great football today and it's hard to think of anyone in a red shirt who won his personal battle with his opposite number, possibly Theo and Abou were the exceptions.

Villa got two yellow cards for timewasting and yet at the end of the game only four minutes added time were played, two minutes of which were seemingly for Sagna's injury and the other two minutes for a seriously prolonged goal celebration which evoked another 'timewasting' card. Not that it mattered because we could have played all night and not found the net. But Friedel could quite easily have got himself a second card for a further time wasting offence. Further evidence that Mike the inane grinning feckwit Riley is, as ever, a total tosser. Why he stopped play for a defender down in their box who clearly had no injury, certainly not a head injury, I just don't know. It was annoying because we had the ball. Whereas why when in a similar situation Sagna went down clearly hurt from something that may or may not have been a foul Riley allowed play to continue and a goal for Villa resulted. Why advantage for one and not the other I have not the slightest inkling. Throughout th
e game Riley made decisions such as these that were quite pitiful, but he cannot be used as an excuse. He was as ever a major irritation, certainly not worthy of any respect what-so-ever, but not the reason for our ineptness.

Neither can tiredness be an excuse, neither can our injury list be used, given that this same side started against United and our bench looked strong. We were controlled today in the same way that every team that has defended deep against us had done thus far this season. We are unable to break down teams that defend, which could be any old team that defends it seems. Even poor defensive teams like Fenerbahce. We clearly cannot break down even poor teams who organise well. Villa do not have great defenders, Luke Young is not even a moderately lousy defender, Cuellar is very average and Davies is iffy at best. We can kill anyone who gives us a game but we can't break teams down any organised defence right now. Why this is I don't know. I could pretend to have the answers but I don't.

Villa scored their first with twenty minutes to play. Sagna went down injured on halfway and stayed down. They broke down the left through Young into the space vacated by Sagna, with no effective holding midfield player such shit happens. The cross was good as was Agbonlahor's pressure. Clichy got there first but put through his own net. On the balance of play and our failure to penetrate this was a deserved lead for Villa. 0-1 Villa.

Villa scored their second when at one end Vela went down, seemingly fouled, on the edge of their box. We were pressing but not penetrating at this point with ten minutes left to play. They broke fast from a hoofed clearance, Agbonlahor did us for pace again and took his chance well. We were now undone completely and didn't look like getting back into it. Depressingly the chances we had created throughout were minimal given our possession. 0-2 Villa so there was no at all chance of getting the demented O'Neill sit down now.

Quite why at the death we required four men back to look after a lone striker I know not. Quite why when we were desperate for a goal it should be Gallas charging forward whilst Cesc remained deep I have no idea. Why Diaby who played with great close ball control was taken off I don't know. Why today the totally ineffective Nasri remained on beyond even half time I don't know. Why we didn't speed our game up as we did against United I haven't a clue. As to why we didn't get behind Villa at all throughout the match I'm clueless. Quite why Toure who replaced the injured Sagna looked the most likely player to plough his way through into their box is anyone's guess.

So after 94 minutes those who appreciate the better team stayed on to applaud Villa and boo Riley, but most had departed. Those remaining got to see the lone figure of Theo Walcott making a solo gesture to all stands as he clapped the long queues of disgruntled Gooners heading for the exits. Thanks Theo, I for one will remember that gesture. As Kev Whitcher said to me post match, please let's not have yet another 'I believe in my team speech' from Wenger, Kev said he just couldn't take it and I'm with him on that one. Today we were out played by a half-decent team and so will now have to fight them and a few others for fourth place instead of pressing on for much better things. But I somehow still doubt if the likes of Messi will be arriving in January.

We've now played just thirteen league games and we've already lost four matches, none of them to top teams. For once in my life I'm delighted we have an international break right now. But if I was that fool Domenech I certainly wouldn't be considering giving our back four an outing in the French colours. As defensive back fours go ours still leaves a whole lot to be desired. On this form none of the team deserve to start an international match this week. But I bet they do and if not I bet they get injured in training.