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Heroes, not Villains

Well, well, well! Where did that come from?

The starting XI brought some surprises with changes from both the XI that faced Palace and Ned’s predicted XI. KT3 hadn’t recovered from a knock sustained in the Palace game and was replaced by Tavares. Sambi replaced Ødegaard alongside Partey in midfield to provide more muscle than the Norwegian had displayed on Monday. The final change was a result of Lacazette’s energetic contribution against Palace winning him a starting place at the expense of Pépé. As a result, Aubameyang was expected to start on the left with Lacazette up the middle, Saka on the right and ESR as a ‘ten’ in a 4-2-3-1.

The first half started with a burst of aggression from Watkins who kicked out at Gabriel for shielding the ball as it ran through to Ramsdale and promptly received a yellow card. Whether this gratuitous violence was the source of the energy displayed by Arsenal, whether the team simply continued with the drive and focus with which they finished the Palace game or whether Arteta’s work at Colney during the week was the cause, this Arsenal team was unrecognisable from Monday’s display.

Every member of the team showed aggression and intelligence both with and without the ball, winning first and second balls all over the pitch, moving the ball quickly in transition and finding team-mates in space. Our high press was organised and effective and Villa were unable to create any coherent moves (recognise that?) with Buendia and their front pair completely starved of the ball. Villa’s players were clearly rattled by the early course of the game’s flow and whether it was as a result of Arsenal’s quality or Villa’s failings, Arsenal seemed able to pass their way through them with ease.

Aubameyang began in a central position rather than on the left with Lacazette playing as a mobile ‘ten’. Saka and Tomiyasu threatened down the right but even more frequently ESR and Tavares rampaged down the left while Lacazette, Sambi and Partey drove periodically through the centre.

In the first five minutes a sweet through ball from Partey found Saka on the edge of the Villa box. His cross to the far post found Aubameyang near the spot from which he had scored against Palace but on this occasion, he attempted an overhead kick which flew back across goal to Saka whose shot flew over. It was a clear declaration of intent. Seconds later, Tavares sprinted into the box but his shot was wide then White drove through midfield, like a vintage Beckenbauer, and laid the ball off but the attack came to nothing. When Aubameyang then blocked a Martinez clearance the Villa players threw a collective hissy fit that suggested instability rather than collective strength.

Shortly thereafter, Aubameyang had the ball in the net but it was disallowed as Lacazette was deemed to have fouled Konsa when he robbed him in the Villa box before squaring for Aubameyang to score. The Arsenal stayed on the front foot with dangerous low and high crosses repeatedly coming in particularly from the left from Tavares, one leading to a melee in front of Martinez and a blocked shot by ESR, another to a high shot by Tomiyasu from 20 yards. The interplay down the left between ESR and Tavares was marvellous and a constant threat which Cash was unable to cope with. The game became somewhat tetchy with strong challenges from both sides resulting in generally unrewarded appeals to an uninterested referee. 

Ramsdale had been little troubled but a clear feature of this game was his ability to make raking long passes to the feet of a teammate standing at the halfway line. He did it with outstanding accuracy several times. This was not, I might add as a result of a Villa press which was of little effect throughout this first half and Arsenal were able to pass their way out of defence throughout without hindrance.

As the first half reached its halfway point, a Saka free kick from the right was prodded by Partey against the bar from close range and a Tavares shot at the end of another nice move down the left involving interplay with ESR was deflected wide. Therefore, your correspondent began to wonder whether we would consummate our clear dominance or once again, as has happened so frequently, be left to rue missed opportunities.

ESR took the corner resulting from that deflected shot. Partey leapt like a salmon despite the attentions of McGinn and Mings and the ball bounced off his shoulder into the goal past the desperate fingertips of Martinez for his first goal for the Arsenal.

Partey, 23 minutes:    1 – 0    

Congratulations Thomas. Now keep up the momentum, lads. Don’t sit back!

Of course, we had to live with a referee who believed it was always open season on Arsenal players and after the goal Pawson waved away late challenges on Tavares and Lacazette though in the latter case he did give Mings his long since deserved yellow card. 

Inevitably, the goal roused Villa and within 5 minutes we appeared to be allowing them more space and time on the ball in midfield. But this was not the passive approach of Monday. Arsenal were like a coiled spring and several quick breakaways showed our continued threat and intent. Once again, we were quick to win the ball back and with quick interplays through midfield turned defence into attack. 

A quick break by Saka found Tomiyasu running into the box but our Japanese full-back was tackled before he could get his shot away. On the half hour, ESR broke out of midfield, found Tavares on the left whose unselfish pass to Saka, free on the other side of the Villa box really should have been buried. His first-time shot was firmly struck but Martinez’s outstretched foot turned it wide.  That should have been a deserved 2-0! Tavares was next to test Martinez with a firm shot from 20 yards after a clever through ball from Sambi. As the half drew to a close, Sambi drove through midfield and passed to Lacazette in the box. He twisted and turned to get a sight of goal but was smothered at the cost of a corner to which Partey rose again but this time headed over.

In added time a rare foray from Villa saw Sambi concede a free kick near the right corner of our penalty area. Surely, after such dominance, we wouldn’t concede an equaliser in the dying seconds of this first half when we deserved to be OFS? (Californian wine drinkers will remember the fine beverage bearing that acronym.) For that free kick, Villa players engaged in an elaborate deception merely ending in a punt to Ramsdale who initiated the next Arsenal attack.

That attack appeared to end with Targett’s challenge on Lacazette as the Frenchman attempted to trap the ball in the box with his back to goal. Lacazette fell clutching his ankle but Pawson showed no interest and Villa brought the ball out. Play continued for several seconds until Pawson blew his whistle with the ball in midfield. Everyone assumed it was half-time. But no! Pawson had been called by VAR to the monitor and after a few more seconds, he pointed to the spot.

Could we get the 2-0 that our play in this half more than deserved? Martinez began his now familiar and frequently successful penalty kick gamesmanship. Aubameyang picked up the ball and looked entirely focused on his task as he placed it on the spot. He struck it firmly to his left but Martinez dived the right way and pushed the ball away only for it to fall to Aubameyang. He struck his shot into the ground thus looping it over Martinez’s desperate lunge. Deliberate? Luck? Who cared?

Aubameyang, 45+2:   2 – 0     

Martinez crouched distraught between his posts. He’s such an emotional chap!

There was just enough time for Villa to kick off while Dean Smith angrily got in the ear of the fourth official. However, that second goal was no more than we deserved. 

HT:  2 – 0

We had been magnificent in that half in comparison to recent outings. Our dominance was confirmed by the first half stats:

Arsenal:           14 attempts on goal, 5 on target, 21 touches in the opposition box

Villa:                0 attempts on goal, 0 on target, 3 touches in the opposition box

Whether as a result of our team selection, our shape, our work on the training ground, Villa’s hangover from their late collapse against Wolves or their inability to make their three-at-the-back system work, we had been quite simply magnificent. Surely Villa would improve in the second-half? They could hardly be less effective. Could we maintain our dominance? 

For the second half, Villa replaced Tuanzebe, a centre back, with Bailey, a fleet-of-foot forward and changed to 4-3-3 with a back four, pushing Watkins onto the left and Ings through the centre with the substitute on the right and Buendia playing as a ‘ten’. Frankly, in the first half we had hardly seen anything from Watkins, Ings or Buendia.

It was immediately clear that things had changed. A long ball found Watkins running through on the left and his low, hard shot towards the near post was turned for a corner by Ramsdale. Their first attempt on goal! In the first five minutes of the second half Villa probed and shot more often than in the whole 45 (+2!) minutes of the first half. Ings dived at Gabriel’s feet with his back to goal, claiming a penalty – nothing doing as Gabriel had merely stood his ground. 

Despite Villa’s new-found zeal, we kept our mettle. We had a couple of shots, one deflected wide, another from Saka flying well over before White blocked a dangerous shot from Ings and another Villan’s shot was deflected for a corner. Sambi marauded up the middle slipping in Saka whose shot was blocked. Then Sambi had a shot himself from a central position but off target.

Although we had been pushed back more often than in the first half we were far less passive than we had been against Palace. We were actively closing down ball carriers rather than simply watching and waiting as seemed to be the rule on Monday. 

ESR intercepted a Villa forward pass midway inside our half, prodding it to Sambi who quickly passed to Tavares on our left. He sent it quickly to Aubameyang on the half-way line who flicked it over two Villa defenders to ESR who was then racing towards goal (we’ve seen that flick before). Mings scuttled back to close ESR down as he entered the box and took aim but Mings’ intervention simply deflected the shot past Martinez at his near post for ESR’s 4th Premier League goal in his 50th PL appearance.

Smith-Rowe, 56:                     3 – 0

This somewhat took the wind out of Villa’s sails though they didn’t revert to the depths of their first half performance. However, we looked to have rediscovered our organisation and dynamism. White blocked a good effort by Watkins at the edge of our box.  Targett gained Villa’s fourth yellow card for bringing down Saka as he broke out of the Arsenal half. Gabriel et al epitomised our newly rediscovered determination when he blocked a Bailey breakaway forcing him to delay and being quickly assisted in the task by Tavares, ESR and Sambi. Ramsdale and Gabriel then combined to block a driven shot by Buendia from within the 6-yard box.

There was lovely interplay between Aubameyang and Lacazette at the edge of the Villa box that might have ended spectacularly but Lacazette’s pass to an unmarked Saka on his right was cut out. Aubameyang then took a yellow for the team by preventing a breakaway  with a captain’s challenge and Lacazette then went off to warm applause to be replaced by Ødegaard.

Shots were exchanged at both ends. Ramsdale smothered a Bailey shot from 15 yards after the Villan had robbed a dilatory Sambi at the edge of the box – that talented lad will hopefully learn to be more careful. Then Aubameyang moving in from the left curled a lovely shot towards the far post but Martinez made a Hollywood dive to push it wide.

In the last quarter of the game, there seemed to be waves of Arsenal attackers breaking forwards interspersed with sporadic thrusts by Villa. Several times Arsenal forwards were tackled in the Villa box. Again Partey leapt like a salmon to meet a corner but headed over– he should work more on that shoulder move! On 72 minutes, Sambi made way for AMN.

White made an excellent clearing header, facing our goal in the 6-yard box, from a lofted ball from a centrally positioned free kick with Mings rushing in to finish it off. Meanwhile Ramsdale continued to make excellent long passes to team-mates’ feet and we continued to threaten. Saka was pulled down by Luiz as he sprinted through on the right and Ødegaard’s free-kick was on target at Martinez’s near post but was grasped by the keeper.

In the 82nd minute, Bailey ran with the ball unchallenged along the edge of our penalty area and Ramsey who was standing in his direction of travel stepped forward and took the ball off his team-mate’s feet, striking it into Ramsdale’s top left corner. Our keeper was rather annoyed at his defence’s failure to challenge and quite clearly told them so!

Ramsey (Villa) 82:      3 – 1

Confidence surged into Villa. Could they pull off a Wolves-style recovery in the last ten minutes? A long throw bounced across our goalmouth past our keeper, defenders and Watkins. Two decisive challenges by Gabriel stemmed the tide: first a strong face-on challenge on an onrushing McGinn at the edge of our box ended a dangerous drive then cleverly nicking the ball off Bailey as he ran with it towards our box.

Nonetheless Arsenal still threatened and an interchange between Saka and ESR led to another sumptuous low cross from the overlapping Tavares which just begged for an Arsenal toe as it traversed the 6-yard box. Tavares then honoured the departed Hector Bellerin with a foul throw in the 88th minute.

Arsenal seemed to have effectively dampened Villa’s late resurgence but Partey’s slip in the box allowed Ramsey another shot at goal from Ramsdale’s right which fortunately rolled past the far post.

In the 90th minute, Aubameyang limped off to be replaced by Martinelli. In the third of four added minutes, Villa were awarded a free kick when Bailey was brought down near the left corner of our box and resulted in a good effort that went just over the near post. The final whistle sounded shortly thereafter.

FT: 3 – 1 to the Arsenal

As predicted by Northbank Ned. At 16s as well! I hope you all acted on Ned’s tip.

What no-one could predict was the excellent first half performance that this team produced and the spirited defence of our lead to see the game out once Villa had revived. When will we see that again? Who knows? 

Hopefully, next week!

Heroes, to a man.

29 Drinks to “Heroes, not Villains”

  1. 1
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:


  2. 2
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Cheers Baff. Top stuff.

    Your last 4 words say it all.


  3. 3
    Countryman100 says:

    Excellent report Bath. It really was a most enjoyable evening. Possibly the best performance of the Arteta era. I was so pleased with the pressing, the tackling back and the winning of second balls. Peak era Barca under Pep used to try, if they lost the ball, to get it back within five seconds. We were doing that time and time again. Were we playing an old fashioned 4-4-2? It certainly gave Villa’s three at the back problems. If so, I’m delighted Arteta was tactically aware enough to switch systems. Lokonga beside Partey was clearly better than Partey on his own with five ahead of him. Many excellent performances.

    We are the youngest team in the Premier League. We will be inconsistent. But last night showed what this team may become over the next couple of seasons. Patience mon braves, patience.

  4. 4
    TTG says:

    Terrific account Bath of a great evening
    My take is that Arteta learnt the lesson on Monday that you can’t expect Partey to
    man the drive from central midfield on his own . Lokonga made a massive difference to the shape and solidity of the team and Villa in turn were woefully undermanned in midfield . They are a better team than Palace in terms of individual quality but Smith had a shocker . I was critical of Tomayisu and White on Monday but they did well
    yesterday in the more solid formation . Partey was a big improvement but still loses the ball too much fir a big unit and Tavares and Lokonga were very good indeed . The hub of the team is ESR and he even made Jamie Carragher purr. ESR is approaching the level of Foden and Grealish very rapidly
    Great evening and a great report on it
    Above all one senses the Grove is now a proper home ground with unstinting and contented support . That has not been the case for about seven years

  5. 5
    Trev says:

    Thanks Bath – great work !

    The overriding quality I liked in that performance was the team work. Team work in every sense. Praising good work, bollocking slackness, helping teammates up off the deck, covering each other positionally, helping in the press, and even letting the ref know when a mate had been fouled or hurt. In a word, spirit. Ok, two words, team spirit.

    We have been too passive in our play and too passive in the face of opposition bullying for too long. Ok, we get over punished for any degree of retaliation, which may have encouraged our laissez faire attitude but, come on, let’s continue looking after each other like they did last night

    The kind of fight they displayed last night also indicates that they are ready to fight for the manager. He was criticised for making excuses on a Monday night when citing the ref’s failure to send off McArthur for his assault on Saka, as a reason why we had not won. But that was not an unknown thing for Arsene Wenger to do either, and seems to have worked better than throwing the odd player under the bus.

    Whatever, this togetherness is a great thing – and an essential quality in teams that win things.

  6. 6
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Fantastic report Bath! And many great comments above from the regulars.

    As others alluded to, the key was the desire and discipline to win all 50:50 challenges and after losing the ball to immediately force a turn over. If we can do that consistently then there is enough creative qualities in the team and finishing abilities to win matches regularly.

    Saka is nowhere close to his very best at this moment as otherwise he would have had scored two goals before Partey’s header, he hurried both the efforts. At some point of time in the season he will need a little breather between his Arsenal and England duties. He was good yesterday but he can be a complete match-winner along with ESR.

    While Sambi has looked composed and matured well beyond his years — he was Anderlecht captain and can with his recommendations from both Henry and Kompany — from the beginning of the season despite the occasional mistakes, Tavares yesterday showed that in addition to his physical abilities he has enough technical qualities and tactical fundamentals to very quickly grow as KT’s understudy so that we do not have to over-play our super Scot. Some of his crosses and cutbacks were quite good.

    Even though Sambi, Nuno and Partey find most of their long rangers landing innocuously outside the frames or straight the goalie, I like that Mikel seems to be encouraging them to take those shots when situations open up. Willingness to take shots now and then from around the edge of the box creates this uncertainty among the defender about whether to commit on early challenges or backing off, and as the team collectively grows together they would learn to better exploit that uncertainty.

    White was fantastic with ball on his feet and one can see that why Mikel so desperately wanted him. Some of his long passes are world class even though not all of his defending qualities yet are.

    Tomiyasu is an old-school safety first type of right back but he is really very good at the defensive side of things. Mediocre going forward but has the athleticism and the desire to press forward in helping out in attack without rarely, if ever, being caught out by a ball over the top or passed around him. If he can add a couple of attacking weapons to his game like a good cross on the run the team will improve. He made a great forward run on the inside — reminiscent of Hector — of Saka yesterday but Saka’s pass for him was just a bit overhit. For our first goal against Palace he had combined very well with Pépé before Nico unleashed his typical left footed curler. So the ingredients are there and given that everywhere he has been he has earned a reputation for a relentless learner who is constantly growing I have high hopes for him.

  7. 7
    Silly Second Yella says:

    “When will we see that again?”

    Hopefully, next Tuesday

    Loco frenzy live

  8. 8
    North Bank Ned says:

    A comprehensive and discerning report, bath. Nothing to disagree with in it at all.

    C100@3: The line-up of record seems to be 4-4-2, which would be a tactically conventional counter to Villa’s preferred 3-5-3. However, we certainly did not play an old-fashioned, by which I assume you mean the classic ‘flat’ 4-4-2 favoured by Wenger, or the diamond variation. To my eye, it looked far more like a 4-2-2-2, rather like Man City used when Pellegrini was their manager. The only way we can play this is with Saka and ESR as the middle two. It doesn’t suit Ødegaard (he is not a counterattacking AM in the way those two are) and Pepe is more a winger than an attacking midfielder.

  9. 9
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Ned@8: Given that while in possession often both Saka and ESR were ahead of Laca I thought Laca played somewhat as a nominal #10 (or the so-called nine-and-a-half) in a kind of 4-2-1-3. Without the ball it was an aggressive 4-3-3 with the lines staying closer to each other in a compact shape providing no joy for Villa on the ball.

    If Saka had put away his chance from Tavares’s perfect cross it would have been a great example of how playing this way we can open up opposition tactically. ESR’s goal was more of a classic defend-to-attack transition relying on individual abilities — ESR’s engine and speed with ball on his feet and Auba’s flick — where Sambi and Nuno too showed their composure and good mid-range progressive passing.

  10. 10
    bt8 says:

    Excellent report Bath on a really good team effort. I’ll drink to that and to the many excellent drinks above, particularly Trev at 5.

  11. 11
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Bath, a fine report.
    Leicester away after the cup game will be a tough one so good to go in on the back of a strong team effort.

  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    Dr F@9: Interesting observation. It probably highlights that the positional play is more important than the minutiae of the formation. Undoubtedly the team’s shape changes during the switch between having the ball and not having it and vice versa.

  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    It will be a sad day for football and beyond if the police investigation into the banner Palace fans displayed yesterday protesting the Saudi takeover of Newcastle leads to charges or other punitive action.

  14. 14
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Ned@13: Not only it will be sad I think would be alarming too. What’s next? Newcastle fans cannot openly kiss their partners attending games with them at St. James?

  15. 15
    OsakaMatt says:

    Humiliation for Manure. Pogba is Xhaka-like

  16. 16
    Gooner_KS says:

    Great results all around. Shame for our GD though.

  17. 17
    Cynic says:

    That is a very satisfying scoreline from the Theatre of Screams.

    If only Klopp wasn’t such a mammoth shithouse.

  18. 18
    North Bank Ned says:

    Even more of a shame we dropped points against Brentford, Brighton and Palace. With even a draw at Brentford, we would be sixth and if either of the Brighton or Palace games had been won, not drawn as both should, we’d be fifth.

  19. 19
    TTG says:

    The result at OT today was extraordinary but possibly it will lead to OGS leaving which is definitely not to our advantage , Sinilarly we don’t want NES to be sacked by the Marshdwellers for some time yet .
    I hate this ‘ project ‘ garbage which is bandied around but Arsenal have a strategy which requires patience and belief . The fans have been quite splendid in providing the latter and as Ned points out , slightly better results in a couple of games would put us in the European places . I’m far from convinced about things but I expected that to be the case . Atvthis stage opinions fluctuate significantly. I wasn’t convinced by White or Tomayisu on Monday but on Friday they did well . We have a blueprint which makes sense , imperfect but not untalented personnel trying to make it work and a conveyor belt if talent coming through in SOME key positions. This is probably the most coherent position the club has been in since we finished second in 2016 . So I’m going to keep the faith

  20. 20
  21. 21
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@20: Thanks for the link. An informative and insightful read, which, to my mind, is also a correct reading of the Villa game. One question that comes to mind is whether we can play the 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid — which I still say is just a flexible 4-2-2-2 — with anyone but Lacazette in the 10 role. The more general question, which I think we have touched on before in the bar, is how well we could play any formation in the absence of Saka or ESR.

  22. 22
    OsakaMatt says:

    « So I’m going to keep the faith »
    @19 TTG
    Seems fair enough TTG, nearly a quarter of the season gone and the table is shaping up pretty much as expected, Shitteh, Chavs and Liverpoo in front. The rest scrapping it out for 4th. Wham leading that race at the moment but we are doing ok after our poor start – unbeaten in six. I’d probably have taken that after the first three games.

  23. 23
    North Bank Ned says:

    To your point, OM, the PL is tight below the top three. Five points separate West Ham in fourth from Brentford in twelfth — and none of those nine sides has won more than five of their nine games so far. Three points at Leicester next Saturday would be massively helpful to the cause of ascending the table, potentially lifting us into the top four if results elsewhere break our way. Two other games also involve one of the nine playing another; the Mancs are at the neighbours and Everton at Wolves. Brighton visit Anfield and West Ham will be at Villa, who surely cannot lose four on the trot. Over the past five games, the Chavs’ have the best record, W4 L1, and the next best is City, Pool and us with W3 D2. At the very least, we have to keep the unbeaten run going at Leicester. A draw should lift us at least a couple of places. Fine margins.

  24. 24
    OsakaMatt says:

    I saw West Ham play Brentford, the 4th and 12th you mentioned Ned. There was nothing between the two sides. As you say it will come down to fine margins. I also saw a bit of Brentford / Leicester this weekend, Brentford were the better side and got mugged by Leicester on the break basically, as we have been several times. We know all about them by now and I guess it will be a cagey game this weekend as we won’t want to commit too many forward, and it will be a test of Lokonga/Partey too as they really can’t be giving the ball away too much. Difficult trip for a young side but a good test.

  25. 25
    bt8 says:

    Fine margins. The stuff of which exciting races are made. Possibly the reason we are seeing Ramsdale rather than Leno, not to mention other similar situations in the team.

  26. 26
    North Bank Ned says:

    It is the Brailsford approach. Lots of marginal improvements adding up to a substantial gain.

  27. 27
    North Bank Ned says:

    The chairman of the majority owner of Newcastle United is now being accused of conspiring to commit regicide.


    The company you keep, and all that.

  28. 28
    scruzgooner says:

    fine report baff, and fine preview (didn’t get a chance to say thanks) from ned in previous. and well-played on the punt, ned.

    i do hope tomorrow and the weekend go similarly to friday. i’ll enjoy my week that much more 🙂

    i used to teach my soccer protegés about fine margins. in our last game one season we had a break in the final minute, with an early shot taken from the top of the box. it rolled just inside the post, and though the keeper got his fingertips to it it crossed the line and we won the game. after the game i told them to remember what i’d said all season, and how it’d come true today: it’s a game of fine margins. they all laughed and went to get their oranges 🙂

  29. 29
    Pangloss says: