Football: Majesty in the mud makes case for Wenger's optimism

Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 3

ARSENE WENGER responded to Arsenal's most imperious display since Villa were vanquished by the same score in October with brutal honesty about the failure to defend their Premiership title and defiant optimism about their capacity to keep pace with wealthier rivals.

A reassuring performance at the end of a deflating week told Wenger that his players still have the desire to repeat, or even improve upon, the achievements of recent years. Arsenal's majesty in the mud, particularly in the first half, was a powerful reiteration of the commitment of players such as Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.

However, the confessional tone of their manager's comments made it clear that the manner of the home defeat by Manchester United prompted soul- searching at Highbury.

"Earlier this season we were on a high, and won games by scores like 5-4 and 4-2," Wenger recalled. "We lost a little discipline and sharpness defensively. We got into bad habits which, when you aren't scoring as often, can become very costly."

The Frenchman added: "Just because we play in a flamboyant manner, it is not inevitable that we lose discipline at the back. We managed 49 games unbeaten playing like that. But game after game, when you go undefeated, it creeps in. They needed a shock to get it back again."

At Villa Park, it looked as if United's second, shattering victory over his side had delivered just such a jolt. But however well they play against a mid-table team shorn of key personnel, Wenger is aware Arsenal will ultimately be judged on how they match up to United and Chelsea.

"We cannot compete financially with them, so we have to find a way to compete by bringing in younger players and giving them time to mature. It's a new challenge for me and the players, but we can still compete with United and Chelsea. United are a massive financial institution. In the same year they bought [Louis] Saha, [Wayne] Rooney and [Alan] Smith. That's pounds 50m just on offensive players. But I feel there is always a way to compete. It will be in a different way, but we can do it."

Arsenal were precisely the "wounded animal" of which the Villa manager, David O'Leary, had warned. Their football was as fluid as any Premiership team can have played this season. Vieira was clearly happier with Edu's physical presence alongside him. Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and Dennis Bergkamp were at the top of their game.

Very quickly it was 3-0 going on six or seven. Ljungberg scored deftly from Edu's pass; Henry's first goal since Boxing Day came when Vieira played him in; and Ashley Cole volleyed a sumptuous third after Henry's strength and Bergkamp's skill set up the chance.

O'Leary felt his side "could have made life harder for them". At half- time the former Highbury defender had to ask his players if they were in awe of Arsenal; whether they felt they should be on the same pitch. Juan Pablo Angel clawed a goal back in an improved second half by Villa, but the returning Jens Lehmann and makeshift central-defensive pairing of Pascal Cygan and Philippe Senderos were seldom tested.

"It made me laugh when I heard it was a good time to meet Arsenal," said O'Leary. "I've played in midweek defeats, and the big sides with the big players know that you have to bounce back straight away."

Goals: Ljungberg (11) 0-1; Henry (14) 0-2; A Cole (28) 0-3; Angel (74) 1-3.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; De La Cruz, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel (Hitzlsperger, 63); Solano, Davis, Djemba-Djemba (Berson, 66), Barry; Angel, L Moore. Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), C Cole, Laursen.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Senderos, Cygan, A Cole; Ljungberg, Edu (Flamini, 74), Vieira, Reyes (Fabregas, 82); Bergkamp (Pires, 74), Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Hoyte.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Aston Villa: Samuel, Djemba-Djemba.

Man of the match: Vieira.

Attendance: 42,593.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future