Feck me, another loss. That’s four in thirteen games now and we’re a full nine points off the top. Not the best result for a weekend where I celebrated my 23rd birthday, I must admit.
I warned you in Friday’s post that there was a chance I might miss the game due to birthday-related commitments and I’m a little relieved to say that it did turn out that way. I’ve only missed a couple of games this season and both ended in horrible defeats, first to Fulham and now to Aston Villa. By all reports they’ve been our two worst performances, so maybe I should not miss a game from now until the end of the season.
Obviously I can’t talk too much about the performance but from what I’ve read the team showed none of the desire that was so apparent against Manchester United as we hit the brick wall that was the Aston Villa defence. Apparently Villa could have won by more than two as their simple game plan of putting men behind the ball and hitting on the break with Young and Agbonlahor worked a treat. Once again we failed to adapt.
This result was so painful because it was so predictable. I woke up the morning of the game to check the result and almost expected to see us lose. I don’t know why, call it a hunch or something else but I just had a bad feeling about this one. It’s clear from the reports that our players just weren’t up to it and they were punished quite severely for their approach.
If what I’ve read about Villa parking the bus in front of the goal and our boys not having the ideas or energy to break through true then I find it incredibly frustrating. This is a problem that this group of players and the manager have had to deal with consistently over the past two or three seasons and there can be no excuses for not finding a solution. Manchester United and West Ham have both let us play in recent weeks and we’ve beaten them, Stoke and Villa have not and they’ve beaten us.
For me the problem is relatively simple – we’re badly missing Mathieu Flamini. When he left at the end of last season I was hugely concerned about the impact it would have on our side. He was my Player of the Season last time around and I went as far to say that he had the potential to become the best player in the world in his position. Milan may have used him sparingly since his departure to Italy but based on last season’s performance I still stand by that statement.
On the day his exit I had this to say:
“Many Arsenal supporters see him as nothing more than a hard-working grafter but in my opinion this season has seen him become far more competent on the ball as well excellent passer to boot. Add to that the fact that he is the first Arsenal player to really click with Cesc Fabregas and you have a man who will be more difficult to replace at the club than many people suspect.
Given the previous departure of Lassana Diarra and the fall from grace of Gilberto Silva, Arsene Wenger now faces quite a challenge to find an adequate substitute for Flamini. I should say that although I think Flamini will be incredibly difficult to replace I am not worried about Wenger’s ability to bring in someone worthy of doing just that.
And before people start getting into a spin about making a huge signing can I just remind you that Bacary Sagna was a virtual unknown outside of France before the start of this season, while Abou Diaby and Alex Song are more than capable of doing the defensive job alongside Fabregas if required.”
It disappoints me to say that I have been proven right about Flamini being difficult to replace. But that’s not what irks me. What irks me is the fact that manager didn’t even attempt to replace him and on top of that, instead of playing one of the two men in the squad who have the potential to slot in for Flamini – Alex Song and Abou Diaby – Wenger has gone for Denilson, a player who simply does not possess the right attributes.
Now this is not a rant aimed at Denilson. Whilst he’s not my favourite player in the squad I do think he is quite a capable and decent footballer. But he is not a defensive midfielder. I’ve said time and time again that he should be rotated with Fabregas, not partnering him, and I really feel that the manager’s decision to continue playing him in the defensive slot is hurting our Spanish superstar and the rest of the team.
I’m expecting some criticism for what I am saying. There will be people saying our defence is flimsy, that our captain is a poor leader, that our goalkeeper does not command his area and that our talisman himself, Fabregas, looks a shadow of the man that was dominating the Premiership in the first half of last season. But I honestly believe if Flamini had remained, an adequate replacement been brought in or even Diaby or Song been played in the defensive-midfield position as soon as they were available then we wouldn’t be sitting nine points of the pace and we certainly wouldn’t have lost four games at this stage of the season.
The sad thing is that the manager has watched it all happen. With Diaby and Song unavailable in the first few matches Denilson was rightfully given a chance next to Fabregas in the middle of the park. He gave it his all but never, ever looked comfortable there. People can show me passing and tackling statistics until the cows come home but the lack of connection between Denilson and Fabregas was there for all to see. A manager of Wenger’s quality should have seen the signs, seen the lack of impact that Fabregas was having and made the change when first Song then Diaby became available. He didn’t and has been hugely punished for it.
With the manager continuing to view Diaby as an attacking midfielder and Song as a centre-back he has no choice but to dip into the transfer market in January and buy a ready-to-go partner for Fabregas. As I said earlier I want to stress that I don’t blame Denilson for where we are on the table – I blame Arsene Wenger. He needs to admit that his gamble on the Denilson-Fabregas partnership has not worked and do something about it. Otherwise it is going to continue to be a frustrating and forgettable season for the Arsenal Football Club. Ghanaian midfielder Stephen Appiah, who still remains a free agent, might be a good place to start.
Repercussions from this match will be big. The boys face Manchester City at the weekend in what will be an enormous clash against another club that desperately wants to break into the Champions League places. With Arsenal faltering at the moment it will be a perfect occasion for our opponents to show that they’re every bit as good as us and knock us down another peg. That they’re not will mean nothing, Villa’s win means we’re in a very vulnerable position at the moment.
With the majority of players away on international duty it’s bound to be a quiet week for football observers if not Arsene Wenger. Hopefully the manager will use the time to make some critical decisions.
What do you think?
Have your say on Arsenal’s loss to Aston Villa and the need for change by leaving a comment.