Where Did Arsenal Go Wrong Against Aston Villa?

Arsenal had the chance to end the weekend at the top of the Premier League table, and take that confidence to Munich against Bayern but they faltered at home against Aston Villa
Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

It really was the perfect weekend for Manchester City. They started it in third place, one point behind both Arsenal and Liverpool, and won 5-1 against Luton Town on Saturday to go top of the table, at least until Sunday evening. They finished it in first place because Liverpool and Arsenal contrived to lose, both at home, against Crystal Palace [0-1] and Aston Villa [0-2] respectively.

So, where did Arsenal and Mikel Arteta go wrong to allow Aston Villa to complete a league double over them this season, and hand Manchester City such huge advantage at this critical juncture?

On paper, it seemed this should be a comfortable victory for the Gunners. They were playing at home, in terrific form, with a fully-fit squad whereas Villa were weakened through injuries and suspensions. Arsenal had also played their European match on Tuesday while the Villans played against Lille on Thursday night. Of the two squads then, Arsenal should have been fresher, more energetic, and better prepared.

And indeed, it seemed like it in the first half which Arsenal dominated even if Villa did hit the woodwork once. It appeared to be a question of when, and not if, the Gunners might score and secure the win, even if they did miss several gilt-edged chances in the opening forty-five minutes.

The second half, however, was an entirely, and surprisingly, different story. Even though Aston Villa made no discernable changes to their tactics and style of play, Arsenal struggled to keep up with them, and struggled to find any fluency or creativity of their own. Eventually, they succumbed to two late goals, both of which they might have easily defended on any other night this season.

Is it old failings then, come back to haunt Arsenal? Have they thrown away their chance to win the Premier League, as they appeared to do last season, and as they stumbled on their way to Champions League qualification the season before, only to finish fifth?

Mikel Arteta did make some changes to the starting eleven. Kai Havertz, having done so well through the middle as a false-nine this season, was instead deployed in midfield to replace Jorginho alongside Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard. Gabriel Jesus started up front, with Trossard in place of Martinelli on the left wing. Jakub Kiwior made way at left back for Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Perhaps it was the changes which unsettled the team’s rhythm. Or maybe the number of matches played this season already has taken its toll on the players. Odegaard, for once, could not see out the full 90 minutes, and it was after he was substituted that the team capitulated. Ben White had to be taken off, and that does not happen very often. Jorginho and Martinelli were perhaps not fit or fresh enough to start in the first place. We know Gabriel Jesus has played through pain the entire season.

Or maybe, just maybe, this loss was coming all along. Arsenal had enjoyed an incredible 11 match undefeated streak during which they had score 38 goals and conceded only four. However easy Manchester City may have made it look to go on 16 to 18 match winning streaks to end the season with trophies, those runs of form are not actually the norm in top flight football.

And so we are left with one big question with six match days to go before the end of the season. Did Manchester City win the title today or might they blink themselves for once in the final run in, and allow either Arsenal or Liverpool a chance to turn it around?