x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal count the cost against Aston Villa

Lack of signings and slump to Aston Villa at home has fans angered at team and coach, reports Jonathan Wilson.

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger was unhappy against Aston Villa.
Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger was unhappy against Aston Villa.


Giroud 06’


Benteke 22’, (pen) 61’, Luna 85’

Red card Koscielny (Arsenal)

Man of the match

Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

LONDON // Given the gulf between the money Arsenal promised to spend this summer - lots - and the signings they have actually made so far - just one, the France youth international, Yaya Sanogo - the potential was always there for their opening game of the season to spiral into anticlimax and fury.

This, though, was a let-down on a spectacular scale. After taking an early lead against Aston Villa, anything that could have gone wrong for Arsene Wenger's side did as they were undone by poor finishing, poor refereeing, poor defending and poor discipline.

By the end, the Emirates was a predictable cauldron of boos. Arsenal's first defeat on the opening day for 13 years crystallised the discontent about the lack of transfer activity.

Fans chanted for Wenger "to spend some … money" and there was even an outing for that most modern of symbols of protest, the laser-printed A3 sheet urging "Spend Spend Spend".

Wenger struggled to remain calm when the issue of Arsenal's lack of signings was raised.

"Could we have won the game with the players who were on pitch today? Yes," he said. "We are ready to buy players if we can find players who are good enough."

Things began well, Arsenal taking the lead with a delightfully worked goal after six minutes. Here, perhaps, was the advantage of not making signings: a team goal rooted in the mutual understanding of players who have trained and played together.

Jack Wilshere got the move going with a dragback before laying the ball right for Tomas Rosicky: he slid the ball down the line for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and his cross was swept in by Olivier Giroud.

The swell of discontent, though, had merely been postponed.

Gabriel Agbonlahor, described as "unplayable" by his manager Paul Lambert, charged through after 21 minutes, poked the ball past Laurent Koscielny and was upended by Wojciech Szczesny.

The ball broke to Karim El Ahmadi, who fired wide, but the referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot, to the irritation of Arsenal players and fans who presumably thought an advantage had been played.

Szczesny saved Christian Benteke's penalty, but the Belgian forward nodded in the rebound.

A second, far more controversial penalty followed just after the hour, by which time Fabian Delph had struck the inside of the post.

Koscielny seemed to make contact with the ball but then caught Agbonlahor's trailing leg. This time Benteke sent Szczesny the wrong way and rolled in the penalty.

Koscielny was booked for the foul, something that had serious consequences seven minutes later when he stretched into a challenge on Andreas Weimann. He made minimal contact, if any, and his studs were not raised, but it was enough to earn a second yellow card and a dismissal.

"I didn't like his performance but more than that I didn't like the spirit in which he refereed the game," said Wenger, who was unhappy at Villa's physical approach.

"Read into that what you will. It's a deeper question that just one decision."

By then, there was a sense that if it could go wrong for Arsenal, it would - although their sense of grievance should not disguise the fact that Villa looked sharper and smarter.

Rosicky, by far Arsenal's best player on the day, laid off a ball for Santi Cazorla, who struck an awkwardly bouncing ball into the ground, only for it to loop up and be pushed against the crossbar by Brad Guzan.

The coup de grace was applied by Antonio Luna, the only new signing on the pitch at the start of play, who ran on to Weimann's pass and calmly rolled the ball in off the post with four minutes remaining.

The result was bad enough, but Arsenal also lost Kieran Gibbs to a cut on his head, Oxlade-Chamberlain went off at half time and Bacary Sagna landed awkwardly on his neck late on. Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey also picked up knocks.

This was as miserable as it gets and the pressure on Arsenal and Wenger for new signings is more intense than ever.


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