It’s never nice to see us lose, especially at home, but it seems that there were mitigating circumstances for the 0-3 defeat on Saturday. After Paul Lambert notified the press post match that there had been a sickness bug that had swept through the club, it became apparent that he was facing an uphill challenge before the match even began.
Despite illness affecting the squad, there were still lessons learned during the match.
It could’ve been a different game
It’s fair to say before the four minute collapse we were more than a match for the Gunners. Delph troubled Szczęsny from distance and Agbonlahor’s pace seemed like it could trouble an Arsenal back line that had been traumatised by Dortmund during the week. The real turning point of the first half was Ciaran Clark failing to score in the twenty-second minute from a well-delivered Tom Cleverley set piece. It was a pretty impressive save from Szczęsny but Clark really should have scored. If that chance had gone in, who knows what could have happened with a packed Villa Park behind the lads. Teams have to score when they are on top (even marginally). Unfortunately, we didn’t – and the Gunners took advantage.
Westwood was missed
Losing Ashley Westwood right before kick-off was a big blow. I stated a few weeks ago that Westwood is the kind of player people notice when he isn’t there. I felt we really missed his ball retention and technique in midfield. Our number fifteen has been in great form so far this season, really stepping up his game. The midfield doesn’t look quite right without Westwood in it and I believe that we would have had more of a foothold in the game with Westwood playing.
On the subject of Westwood, I did much prefer Tom Cleverley’s whipped in set piece deliveries as opposed to Westwood’s more floated deliveries.
Give Sanchez time
Westwood pulling out meant that Carlos Sanchez was thrown in for his first Premier League start under difficult circumstances. It is fair to say Sanchez will probably have better games in a Villa shirt than he did against Arsenal. He seemed to want too much time on the ball and got caught out a number of times. When he did release the ball, it was often misplaced. When he got taken off in the eighty-third minute, there were a few ironic cheers from the Villa faithful, which is poor form. He was poor but he needs to be given time. I don’t think Arsenal was the ideal team for him to be making his first Premier League start against, especially with less time for the mental preparation needed pre-match. He is obviously a good player – nobody plays in midfield for this Columbia side without being one – and he will get better, a lot better. I was surprised that Lambert didn’t take him off earlier but, with Weimann forced off at half-time, I imagine Lambert didn’t want to make multiple substitutions. Lambert will also have considered that dragging the Columbian off at half time could have damaged his confidence.
Thank God we have a squad!
Last season, if we had started a game without Vlaar, Baker, Westwood, Benteke and Kozak then lost Weimann at half-time, we would have struggled to field a team. We lost Saturday’s game but seeing the line-up we did have without those players gives me great hope that the Villans can cope with injuries this season. Lambert still had options on the bench and that bodes well for when he has a fully fit squad to choose from, as, finally, he has some options.
Okore’s time will come
With Vlaar and Baker missing, it was probably expected that Okore would fill in, especially as he was on the bench ahead of Clark the previous weekend at Anfield. Lambert obviously didn’t want to move Senderos to left-sided centre back nor did he want to rush Okore so it was probably the right call to start Clark. We saw with Sanchez that players need time to adapt to a new football culture and Okore has only lasted one whole match in the Premier League so far. A bad injury, coupled with the adapting that needs to take place, has meant that Villa fans have seen very little of the Danish international so far. The Villans’ position means Okore does not need to be rushed back.
Home is where the heart is
It was great to see a packed Villa Park again after disappointing numbers attended the previous home games. The great start to the season and the fact that we were playing Arsenal probably helped sell forty thousand tickets but what I liked was that the majority of the crowd stuck with the team, despite the score. The team was even applauded off at the end, which would not have happened last season. It seems that the majority of Villa fans are singing from the same hymn sheet at the moment so let’s hope the boys can pick up as many points as possible from the rest of this tough run and then really push on.