Gunner Thoughts

Arsenal – Aston Villa: Key Opportunity Scorecard

Before Arsenal’s match with Villa I identified some key opportunities to exploit versus Villa. After, I went back and reviewed how many helped Arsenal win.

Arsenal finally get the response they have been searching for the last few weeks and it comes in a match filled with goods, bads, uglies, but a huge second half performance to grab all three points from their old boss Unai Emery.

The response and result are all anyone should care about. Sometimes you have to trudge through the mud to find that glint of good form, and an 18 shot, 3 goal second half will hopefully carry Arsenal back into form.

To not be at our best but come back twice and complete the moment in extra time for all three points and demonstrate a great second half – that HAS to count for something in the morale column, right?

Before the match, I went back to Aston Villa’s previous matches versus Leicester City and Manchester City to see what Arsenal could expect from the Villains and key opportunities to break them down.

Feel free to go read if you are interested but the list of opportunities I believed Arsenal would have were:

  • Defensive disarray
  • Split the half-space seams
  • Hit the switch hard and fast
  • Jorginho has space to push forward
  • Set Pieces

In the aftermath of this victory, I wanted to go back a look at these opportunities I identified — which I do believe were present during the match — and assess how well Arsenal took advantage of them.

Defensive disarray

For anyone that watched Villa get shredded by Manchester City, it will have been clear immediately how susceptible Villa were to getting their 4-4-2 shape stretched and altered. It lead to so many seams and holes and pockets of space. Their diligence was suspect and it meant there were opportunities for Arsenal to control spaces in the attacking third and get back to scoring ways after this recent slump.

Villa changed things up from their match versus City by selecting Coutinho and McGinn. Coutinho provided more transition power and McGinn offered a more robust, two-way, physical midfielder.

In the first half it worked, although Arsenal were their own worst enemy. They couldn’t rediscover the zip in their passing, they idled on the ball, they looked lethargic in transitions, and it made shifting side-to-side all too easy once again.

In the second half, they were much more effective on the way they manipulated space and forced Aston Villa’s structure to break. By doing this, it allowed them to take advantages of many of the other key opportunities in his blog, leading to three goals.

You knew they were starting to break when Villa midfielders started bouncing between being in the backline and midfield without consistency. The space opens and attacking chances were there, especially around the top of the box — an area Arsenal struck from twice through Zinchenko and Jorginho.

Split the half-space seams

Born out of Villa’s tendency to get stretched while ensuring they had defenders in the wings. Versus Manchester City, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan had a field day and I was excited at the prospect of Xhaka and Ødegaard being able to exploit those same gaps.

In the first half, when Arsenal struggled, Xhaka and Ødegaard were too deep to take advantage of many attacking spaces. Unfortunately with Jorginho — who played great again — there is a neat to alter Xhaka’s role to be more withdrawn but Ødegaard couldn’t find the spaces.

In the second half, we saw this opportunity get taken advantage of. Martin was fantastic in the second half as we put together a more comprehensive attack to create pockets of space.

Ødegaard ended the match with 7 created chances, he gets the assist on Zinchenko’s set piece goal, creates two big chances, and is in great position on his shot but really needs to do better with it. He didn’t quite get the real estate in behind that De Bruyne did, but he was fantastic in the second half to lead Arsenal’s comeback.

Xhaka struggled, but when Fabio Vieira was subbed into the match late, he had a great influence on the match. I don’t think Arteta could have safely selected Vieira from the start, as much as I wanted it, but its good to see him have a positive effect with his minutes.

Hit the switch hard and fast

A lot of Manchester City opportunities came from hitting the long back and attacking the space while Villa scrambled to adjust their block. By the time the did, City jinked away and found the spaces to devastate.

I don’t believe Arsenal did a great job of this, and I think it made their lives more difficult. Teams have figured out they can stay compact centrally and shift to double the wings and give themselves a good chance at stumping Arsenal. As with everything in this game, things looks better in the second half, but Arsenal rarely took the opportunity to hit the switch.

It was great to see Arsenal’s attack look much more like itself in this second half, but it feels like there is an opportunity being missed by not finding that early ball cross-field.

Jorginho has space to push forward

This is one of those things you write and then you see Jorginho unleash a thunderbastard off the crossbar and in off the goalkeeper and you think, “holy shit, I called that”.

Okay, maybe not EXACTLY that, but after watching Rodri dominate Villa’s 4-4-2 setup, it seemed like such an opportunity. As Villa’s two banks of four drop off and their two forwards stay high, that holding midfielder often is left unaccounted for. It offers the ability to step up into a lot of space and overwhelm with an attacking overload.

Jorginho was outstanding, that last strike was absolutely fantastic, but to add to it, Jorginho tallied two created chanced 70/79 passing, and really put forth and outstanding performance. I definitely believe this was a part of Arteta’s plan, or at the very least, something Jorginho sensed as the game went on and it lead to real success.

Set Pieces

Coming into this game, Aston Villa has conceded 11 of 34 goals from set pieces. Arsenal had scored 8 on the season.

Maybe Arsenal didn’t threaten all day on set pieces, but the thing about them is if you concede or score on a single one, it’s a good day.

Arsenal take a short corner with Ødegaard and Saka and slide a ball to Zinchenko at the top of the box. It’s an all-too-simple routine and Zinchenko buries his shot low and hard. It’s an outstanding strike.

Any game you check the box on 4 of 5 key opportunities and leave with a 4-2 win and three points is a good day.

Arsenal head into a stretch of winnable matches over the next month and need to keep their momentum going. The impending return of Partey, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Jesus will play a role in Arsenal’s season and we have to hope propels this team across the finish line.

A good display — if slightly incomplete — but one that provided a real response to adversity. A sign of good things to come.

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