By Adam Keeble
The trip to Arsenal was a record-breaking, heart-breaking disaster – but what can be learn as Aston Villa fans from the embarrassing performance and other moves this week?
The players looked nervous right from kick-off at the Emirates, and they were right to feel uncomfortable. The Gunners were toying with the defense and had decided to attack Alan Hutton, our most consistent reliable player, rather than an out of position Richardson at left back. And it was working. Also, if Richardson was put in for his pace ahead of the plodding Cissokho, it wasn’t working.
Benteke had another quiet game without seeing much of the ball. Weimann vented his frustration more than once. Guzan had his work cut out for him, but he would be the first to admit he could have done better.
The defense we have pointed to as one of the league’s strongest fell to pieces. We had one half-chance in the second 45 minutes.
Sanchez… where to start? He won the ball, certainly. But he might as well have left it because he gave it away over and over again with a stray pass. Cleverley and Delph huffed and puffed. Gil was trying to get something going with his passing and communication – and he doesn’t even speak good English.
Former Arsenal fullback Lee Dixon made two good points during his TV commentary. He said back in the day, if Ian Wright scored for Arsenal, the team knew they had a good chance of winning because they kept so many clean sheets. The chant and philosophy of “one-nil to the Ars-en-al” was born of this. The same was said of Alan Shearer and Colin Hendry’s Blackburn Rovers. If Shearer scored, chances are the defense would win Rovers the game. Dixon pointed out that Villa have the opposite problem: if they concede, it’s going to be hard to Villa to win because they don’t score goals.
That’s where we are and have been for six league games in a row for the first time EVER. That way of thinking needs to change along with the desperation of the goal-scoring drought.
Dixon’s second point (and while as a player he was constantly feigning injury to give Arsenal a break if under pressure, etc, but as a commentator he gives good insight into the game and has a good sense of humour) was about the substitutes Villa made at 3-0 down – to be fair, Lambert had them ready to go on a 2-0 down.
We brought on Gabby and Sinclair, but Dixon said “it would need to be Superman and Spider Man to get anything out of this game”. His point is very valid, which reminds fans of yet another unwanted statistic – not one of the Villa substitutes has come on and scored a goal this season. Sinclair has barely trained with the squad yet and Gabby, while rightly on the bench at last, is and has always been a confidence player. Having finally been benched for tactics or form or whatever reason, he can hardly be feeling very good about it. The solution is simple: a stronger squad. If Lambert doesn’t fancy Grealish yet, doesn’t think Gardner can make it, has waved goodbye to Luna… the list goes on… then he has to bring in players who are BETTER.
As of writing this, Gil and Sinclair have been the only two signings in this window and that’s a good start. Kozak is almost back too, which is nice. And while domestic loans are no longer viable, is it really possible that nowhere else in the planet is there a player in the reserves who wouldn’t mind playing for a few months in the Premier League at a club with a rich history and in desperate need of a Superman or a Spider Man for the fans to worship? If Lambert is serious that he’s looking to improve the squad in every position, as he said post-match on Sunday, then he’s either looking in the wrong places or not looking hard enough.
It doesn’t take a ex-pro like Dixon (last mention of him – promise) to see how woeful the tactical decisions Villa made on Sunday were – and how there was no plan B. There are valid excuses: you have to use the players available to you. But to play that high a line against a counter-attacking, fast moving incisive Arsenal got Villa what they deserved: a good kicking.
Lambert said to sit back and try and soak up the Arsenal attack wouldn’t have worked – newsflash: it might have worked better than the tactic you DID use. Even 4-0 would have been better than 5-0. And how about after you identified your tactic wasn’t working, maybe changing something? Stubbornly waiting until Villa were as good as beaten to change a couple of players around but keep doing the same thing rather than, say, switch to a longer ball in or bring on Baker to play as a third centre-back and push the full backs up higher to try and give Benteke a cross while stemming the risk of losing another goal at the back? There’s no plan B and that isn’t smart.
Everything’s okay because according to Lambert we were great for more than an hour and had chances. So, we’ll get them next time! Who is he trying to convince? The fans? The players? His boss? Match Of The Day?
Lambert’s logic that if we keep making chances (and we aren’t making enough) we will score goals (we aren’t and we haven’t for the longest time in the club’s history because we aren’t making enough chances) we’ll be fine. Fine?
This is how we will be fine: three clubs in the league do worse than we do. An FA Cup run would be a nice distraction, but it’s almost smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that as a club, we cannot seriously compete in this division against the teams we have to play.
You can point the finger at whoever you want, and many people are to blame (including the fans who are distracting the players with their “Lambert Out” chants, if you believe Lambert himself) but that’s the bottom line. Aston Villa is not able to perform at this level at this moment in time. And that has to change or it won’t be relevant because we won’t be playing in the top flight anymore because we’ll be relegated.
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