Wednesday 13 December 2017

Fans lose patience with boring Arsenal

On a wet, blustery, bitterly cold evening in the west Midlands, it was easy to forgive the punters who put Christmas shopping ahead of watching Aston Villa and Arsenal serve up a goalless draw that did nothing to warm the hearts of those that braved the elements.

Villa will take some comfort from the fact that the point lifts them out of the relegation zone at the expense of Reading, who visit here on Tuesday, although for the travelling supporters there was only frustration.

Booing, followed by chants of "You don't know what you're doing" were directed towards Arsene Wenger, after the Arsenal manager withdrew Olivier Giroud four minutes from time and replaced the striker with Francis Coquelin. The Arsenal fans sang Jack Wilshere's name earlier in the evening but the England midfielder remained on the bench throughout, which he might view as something of a blessing. As for Villa, they showed plenty of passion here but lacked a cutting edge, which makes it all the more strange that Paul Lambert failed to name Darren Bent among the substitutes.

With the conditions so abysmal, this was never going to be free-flowing football. Surface water was making it impossible to zip the ball about with any purpose as both sides struggled to play with any rhythm on an evening when it seemed inevitable there would be mistakes. It was certainly easy to sympathise with Wojciech Szczesny when the Arsenal goalkeeper gathered the ball inside the area late in the first half but because of the sodden pitch was unable to stop himself from handling outside the box.

Villa thought they had taken the lead from the free-kick that followed, but replays showed that the referee's assistant had been correct to rule Andreas Weimann offside after the forward stabbed home from inside the six-yard box. There was more frustration for the home fans to endure moments later when Gabriel Agbonlahor tumbled in the area only for referee Lee Mason to wave away appeals for a penalty. Again the decision was spot on, with Per Mertesacker clearly making contact with the ball before Agbonlahor fell.

In truth, goalmouth action was at a premium in the opening 45 minutes.

Villa had started reasonably positively and looked to utilise the aerial strength of Christian Benteke, who had given Manchester United such a torrid time in Villa's previous home game. The Belgium international had a couple of half chances before half-time and will be disappointed that he failed to force Szczesny to make a save on either occasion, miskicking a far-post volley before heading Ashley Westwood's corner wide after towering above the Arsenal defence.

Arsenal gradually began to ease their way into the game, but this was never going to be a night when there was any fluency to their play. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drilled wide in the 20th minute after cutting inside Enda Stevens, and Brad Guzan later produced an instinctive save with his legs to keep out a close-range effort from Aaron Ramsey. The best Arsenal chance in the first half fell to Laurent Koscielny, who scooped Olivier Giroud's centre over the bar from eight yards after shrugging off Ciaran Clark. Had the roles of the two Arsenal players been reversed, the outcome would have been different.

A callow Villa side looked more inexperienced early in the second half when Ron Vlaar, the captain, limped off to be replaced by Eric Lichaj, another academy graduate. By that point there was little pattern to the game, although Santi Cazorla did thrash a 20-yard shot narrowly wide. Villa continued to probe without ever look really menacing, their approach play undermined by a lack of ideas once they got near the Arsenal area.

Arsenal, in fairness, were not exactly setting things alight at the other end and it was no surprise when Wenger decided to make a change, replacing the largely anonymous Lukas Podolski with Gervinho.


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