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.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past