It was 14 shots to zero in that bruising first half last night as Aston Villa put in arguably their worst performance of the season at the Emirates.
Serious question marks have been raised once again with Dean Smith refusing to put Villa’s fifth defeat from nine down to tactics, systems or personnel.
The reason for the loss was, according to the boss, down to his players failing to get the basics right in that first 45 with Villa dominated from the get-go.
Here’s our talking points from the 3-1 defeat as Villa lick their sorry wounds ahead of what’s looking like a huge one next week at home to West Ham.
SMITH HINTS AT SYSTEM SWITCH
“They didn’t let me down. They let themselves down. I didn’t expect that. That was the XI who were 2-0 up against Wolves…”
That was Smith’s reply when asked by BirminghamLive if he felt his players let him down in north London knowing the manager was brave to go with an unchanged line-up after last week’s Wolves defeat.
“It’s not about systems,” Smith then added, with serious question marks surrounding his stubbornness to stick with his 3-5-2. “We haven’t had players available. We came away from Old Trafford three games ago and everyone’s thinking it’s a great system to play. We lose a few games and everyone thinks it’s a terrible system. That’s the world I’m in.”
Given that throwaway line about “not having players available” and that could well point to a system shift with Leon Bailey nailed-on to start given yet another positive showing.
The Jamaican was classy once more while he chalked up another assist, teeing up Jacob Ramsey’s strike to pull one back.
After Bailey’s introduction at half-time, Villa went to a 4-3-3 with Ollie Watkins getting some joy out on the left. Villa registered 10 shots on Arsenal’s goal in the second half and looked much more better and balanced. It surely points to that system against West Ham next week with the 3-5-2 no doubt ditched after two wins and four defeats.
MINGS MOMENT TYPIFIES LACK OF BELIEF
Now, during that first-half onslaught and a telling moment came via the skipper, Tyrone Mings, who just knew things weren’t right as he continued to shake his head – even when Villa were in possession.
It was wave after wave of Arsenal attacks, with Mings helpless at attempting to arrest what was a battering.
There was a real lack of belief amongst the group last night, while the finger-pointing also came out as Mings and Matt Targett had a pop at both Ezri Konsa and Matt Cash on the right side with Mikel Arteta’s men enjoying a lot of success down that flank.
The laboured body language of those in Villa shirts in that first half was a real concern – as it was last week in those crazy final 15 minutes against Wolves. It needs nipping in the bud – and quickly.
RAMSEY BREAKS GOAL-SCORING DUCK
To a rare plus last night other than Bailey and that was Ramsey notching his first goal – becoming Villa’s youngest Premier League goalscorer after a certain Jack Grealish back in 2015.
The 20-year-old caressed home from 18 yards into the top corner, with the finish straight out of the top drawer.
More than that, though, was the areas Ramsey was picking up. The Great Barr youngster should have scored two as he flashed an effort wide from inside the box.
If you speak to those who’ve coached the England under-21 man and they all say Ramsey’s best trait is arriving late and getting on the end of things.
That strike on his 30th Premier League appearance will be huge for him and, hopefully, it starts a goal glut with Ramsey more than capable of becoming a free-scoring midfielder.
The academy graduate should be ahead of Buendia now when it comes to selection for the West Ham fixture, with the Argentinian simply too lightweight in there once again.
THE HEAT IS ON…
Three defeats on the spin takes Villa’s season to five losses from their first nine games. What next then and how does Smith arrest this sorry slump?
The head coach gave it back to his critics last night, insisting Villa’s defeat was nothing to do with his system. Smith clung onto Villa’s second-half display as well which was, for what it’s worth, more of the Villa we expect with Bailey and Ramsey the two picks, while Watkins enjoyed much more of the ball out wide.
The heat has been cranked up a level now and Smith’s going to need to do what he always has done: pull a big result out of the bag to keep his critics at bay.
He’s done it time and time again in his three years at Villa and, next week, he’ll have a packed-out home crowd that will hopefully help his side over the line.
With Bailey now up to speed and others champing at the bit to impress given the display of those who started back-to-back games – then it’s still all to play for.
Results MUST, though, be forthcoming in the next two games otherwise the international break could be a bleak one. European football was the patter amongst the club in the summer. Villa are a million miles from that at the minute.