Villa lose at Arsenal, Dave Woodhall has seen it all before.
When a manager is under pressure he often resorts to either more of the same out of sheer stubbornness, or else some strange, off the wall player selections in the hope that something might work. It was therefore reassuring in a way to see that the team Steve Gerrard put out at Arsenal had a few changes but looked like there was still some method in there. Maybe he does know what he’s doing, maybe he knows his job is still safe.
Emiliano Buendia went close in the early stages but from then on Villa had their backs firmly against the wall during a first half when Arsenal showed why they’ve made such a good start to the season. There were goal-line clearances, last-ditch blocks, slices of luck and good saves from Emiliano Martinez throughout the first half. Unfortunately there was also a time when Vila’s luck ran out, as Martinez spilled a deflected shot that fell for Arsenal to go a goal up.
Arsenal could have been out of sight at the break but it was still one-nil and when there’s only a goal in it, you never know. To their credit Villa came out for the second half much improved, with a lot more urgency and spirit. We won a corner and Douglas Luiz, on for the ever-disappointing John McGinn, promptly pulled off his party piece again, the ball going straight in although Boubacar Kamara perhaps deserves an assist for the way he impeded the Arsenal keeper. It could have easily been disallowed, although it was the Villa so we deserved it.
Then, of course, came the old failing. Get back into the game, switch off, let the opposition score again. Martinez might have been unlucky with the first goal but he got his positioning all wrong for the second, although even then he couldn’t have expected Villa’s defence to be so diabolically wide open. It shouldn’t be that difficult to keep your composure when you’ve scored, or for that matter to learn from your basic errors. At the moment, though, Villa learning from anything is too much to hope for.
That, as you’d expect, was that. Villa tried but couldn’t do anything to get close to a second equaliser. Philippe Coutinho, who had come on for Buendia at the same time as Luiz, was anonymous, Danny Ings was thrown on for the final ten minutes and did little better. Why Cameron Archer, who has answered every question asked of him so far in his Villa career, couldn’t have got a run is as much of a mystery as why so many of these players have gone backwards during 2022. McGinn, Matty Cash, Lucas Digne; all of them shadows of their former selves. Villa’s effort couldn’t be faulted tonight and that’s perhaps the most worrying aspect. Arsenal won without breaking sweat, they scored when they had to and on another day could have had a hatful.
The transfer window closes tomorrow, yet the only rumours where Villa are concerned are about players moving out. If that’s what happens then we really do deserve everything we get. Talking of which, this defeat marks Villa’s worst start for 25 years. Losing on Saturday will see another milestone equalled, that of the inglorious 1986-87 season, when we won one of the first six and Graham Turner lost his job after a six-nil defeat. It’s Manchester City on Saturday.