Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2: Paul Lambert's side pay price for failing to get forward against Gunners

Second half performance showed what Aston Villa are capable of

If the second half of this game showed the best side of Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa side – their hunger, their strength, their resilience – the first half showed why those admirable traits are still not quite enough. Villa’s rousing but futile fightback was impressive in itself, but the last act of a side who had effectively lost the game already, having gifted Arsenal possession, chances and goals in a very poor first half.

There is certainly much to applaud in Lambert’s approach to managing Aston Villa. He inherited a team which had grown bloated, lazy, slow, old and complacent, and knew that he had to tear it apart and start again. Villa needed an injection of youth and hunger, and, through his transfers and simple force of personality, that is what he has given them. The second half was obvious proof of this.

The problem, though, is that football teams are delicate systems, and this Villa side has been dragged too far in the opposite direction. Lambert has stripped this team of so much experience, nous and the basic traits that are just as important as youthful fearless vigour.

Last season, Villa looked desperately lost for the first half of the season before Christian Benteke rescued them with sheer weight of goals. Benteke had gone four months without scoring before his goal against Arsenal, during which time their results had, understandably, collapsed.

Villa began as they had done too often recently, sitting back, knowing that they do not have the midfield to seize control of the game and having to play on the break instead. They have only won two of their 11 home games this season now and it was easy to see why. Even in the 3-5-2 system that Lambert moved to, which ought to guarantee extra numbers through the middle, Villa could not get near Arsenal’s far sharper midfielders.

 

When Karim El Ahmadi threw himself at Jack Wilshere, flattening the Arsenal midfielder after roughly 50 seconds, it was clear that Villa’s approach would have to be more destructive than constructive. The fact that El Ahmadi was, quite rightly, booked, limited his ability to do more of that while Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph were largely bypassed by the pace of the game.

Even with five in defence and three in central midfield, Villa had eight of their outfield players camped within 20 yards of their own goal, and there was very little resistance, and not much organisation.

All of this with the return of Ron Vlaar, making just his second start in six weeks after recurring calf problems. He is 28 years old, with 21 international caps, the closest Villa have to an authentic adult at the heart of the team. But he could not stop Olivier Giroud from heading just wide early on, and often lost out to Arsenal’s centre forward.

Nathan Baker receives treatment following a head injury Nathan Baker receives treatment following a head injury (Getty)
Vlaar, as ever, had to look after Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker – the latter went off with concussion after 20 minutes – but looked as if he could have done with some more help. Why, amid all of the unproven youngsters, Lambert has not added someone like Scott Parker, Joleon Lescott or Tom Huddlestone, a player with experience of the division, remains a mystery.

So when Wilshere put Arsenal ahead, Villa’s young side were wobbling and vulnerable, and they conceded again. Delph lost the ball to Wilshere, who found Giroud, who evaded Vlaar and Matt Lowton to score the second.

It was only in the second half that Villa started to play the purposeful football they were built for. They moved the ball forward quickly, stretched the play and Benteke was able to cause Arsenal’s immaculate centre-backs serious problems. His goal was much deserved, for Villa’s focus and application, and also for Arsenal’s sloppiness.

But Villa’s problem was one that Arsenal ran into too often last season, lacking the calmness and the nous required in the first half of games and conceding goals which made their rousing second-half comebacks ultimately futile.

That was what nearly stopped Arsenal from finishing fourth last year. Since then, Arsène Wenger has added the experience and quality they needed, giving them a far more complete unit this year. Now they know how to win matches. The scales are different but Aston Villa could learn from that lesson this month.

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game