Arsenal FC fought on Monday to take back the English Premier League (EPL) lead from Manchester City FC, who grabbed the top spot on Sunday with their victory over Newcastle United FC. Needing the three points to take the lead back, manager Arsene Wenger was determined not to allow Aston Villa to stand in their way. They did try, coming on towards the end of the match to challenge for at least a point, but the Arsenal squad proved too much in the end. With about 64% ball possession for the match, Wenger’s side showed just a bit more control and technique that the Villa side could handle in the end.
Jack Wilshire, Arsenal’s Jack-of-all-trades, started off the scoring 34 minutes in, taking his chance to remind fans that he can be a factor from anywhere on the field. Just one minute later, Olivier Giroud silenced the Villa faithful with a second goal. It was well done for Giroud to control a ricochet and put a second shot into the back of the net. On the whole, however, it was a lackluster performance from Giroud. The Arsenal striker had multiple instances where his passing was really poor, costing the club scoring opportunities. He will need to be more than just a one-dimensional forward, waiting to be fed scoring opportunities but not creating them for his teammates, to have the impact that is expected from him. After spending big money to acquire Mesut Ozil for the season, Wenger must be somewhat frustrated by the lack of teamwork being demonstrated by the pair.
It was a tale of two halves, with the Arsenal squad showing dominance for most of the first 45, then nearly allowing Aston Villa to snatch a draw with improved play in the second. In post-match comments, Wenger summed up the difference in the halves succinctly.
“In the first half, it was more about playing,” he told the media, “and in the second half it was more about fighting.”
Just over 75 minutes into the match, Christian Benteke raised the hopes of the Aston Villa faithful with a beautiful header into the back of the net. The Villa star has struggled to score this season, this goal being his first in four months. Seeing Benteke return to fighting form brought the Villa supporters back to life. Loudly chanting in full voice, the energy in the stadium was electric. Recognizing that Arsenal had begun to show a bit less vigilance on the defense, Benteke and the Aston Villa squad pressed to take advantage. Right up until the end, there were exciting scoring chances, but it was just a little to little, too late.
Wenger will take the win. His squad showed a rugged effort for the most part. With the small point difference between the top three clubs in the table, each of the three holding the lead at some point over the weekend, the Arsenal manager has to be looking at the possibility of adding another striker to the squad before the end of the transfer window. Getting ready to face some of the better-performing squads in the league in the coming weeks, they will need a more coordinated attack than they are putting together at the moment. If rumors are correct, and Wenger is trying to land forward Cristian Tello from Real Madrid, it may be what the squad needs to jump-start their attack. It was enough Monday, however, to carry the day. Villa fought hard, but ultimately surrendered the three points to the Arsenal squad and allowed them to take back the Premier league lead.
By Jim Malone