Arsenal ran into a spirited Aston Villa side today as they struggled to secure a point on the road in the wet and dreary 0-0 draw
Aston Villa came out of the gates on the rain-soaked Villa Park pitch and applied pressure immediately to Arsenal's midfield and back four by regaining the majority of possession and successfully converting pass-after-pass that led them, thanks to this, to two quick shots on Szezesny in the span between the 14th and 16th minutes; the Polish international keeper managed to deflect or control these attempts with ease.
Arsenal continued to struggle to maintain possession up until the 19th minute, where they kept possession enough to get Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain their first shot, which went wide right. Immediately after the ensuing goal kick, Villa's Karim El Almadi was booked for simulation as he went over Santi Cazorla's foot a step-and-a-half too late for the official's liking.
In the 25th minute, Arsenal passed it around the attacking left side, ending with Aaron Ramsey flicking it on to German international Lukas Podolski, who tried to chip it past Villa keeper Brad Guzan; the weak attempt, which was defended strongly by Villa, was collected with ease. A minute later, Arsenal continued the assault on Guzan, who parried away a Ramsey shot from eight yards out on the right side of the box with his right foot.
The next ten minutes saw Arsenal aggressively attack Villa with a variety of clever passes, well-timed runs and a shot and header that didn't produce the results desired. However, a break for Villa occurred in the 36th minute as Szezesny slid to gain control of the ball near the edge of his box and, thanks to the slickness of the pitch, slid out of the box. The subsequent free kick was smartly played to the penalty spot, where the shot hit a smattering of bodies and ended up on the foot of Villa midfielder Andreas Weimann, who shot it past a shocked and flailing Szezesny. By the saving grace of the football gods, though, Weimann was a yard offside when the ball bounced to him and the goal that could have given the home side a major boost going into halftime was disallowed.
In the 42nd minute, Olivier Giroud found himself just outer edge of the left side of the attacking box and played in a low cross that skirted across the pitch and found the foot of a charging Laurent Koscielny. The French international defender, unfortunately, showed the world why he isn't a goal-scoring forward and fired in the accurate cross, from three yards out and with Guzan exposed and left open for exploitation, high over the crossbar and out for a goal kick. Just as Villa found themselves ruing a chance from a dangerous set piece wasted just minutes earlier, the visiting side walked back to defend the goal kick believing they should have netted as well.
A minute-and-change after the restart, Cazorla took a smartly-played flick forward from Giroud and sailed his left footed smash just over the crossbar. Yet another attempt just slightly off by the Arsenal. For the next five minutes, the match took on a phrentic pace as both sides quickly changed sides of the pitch with long, accurate passes and counter attacks. Bad luck hits Villa as defender Ron Vlaar exits with an injury in the 51st minute, replaced by Eric Lichaj.
Oxlade-Chamberlain attacked Villa defender Ciaran Clark on the dribble on the right side of the attacking box and fired in a low cross in the 55th minute that found Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey's attempt from that perfectly-placed cross found the 18th row of Villa Park's North Stand. Villa turned up the pressure on Arsenal as they won three-straight corners in the 58th and 59th minutes, thanks to sloppy possession and the inability to win back the ball. Villa continued to control the match as Arsenal struggled offensively. A cross into the box found Szezesny, who distributed the ball back into play and out of their own defensive end. Brett Holman goes off for the carded El Ahmadi in the 63rd minute.
Aaron Ramsey, shortly after Villa's second substitution of the match, takes a headed flick off a corner from Giroud and gave the same Villa supporter in the 18th row earlier another souvenir as he launched the pass over the net. A reoccurring theme from the mustached Welsh midfielder up till this point. Villa capitalized from - you guessed it - the inability of Arsenal to regain possession and they countered and exploited Arsenal with possession, through balls and runs. Arsenal, though, remain stoic and withstand the Villans best attempts at breaking their defensive backbone.
Arsenal looked lost and confused as they continue to give away possession and struggle to mark and contain the charging Villa side. Gabriel Agbonlahor fired in a shot in the 68th minute that Szezesny deflected in front of him and quickly flops on top of to prevent the dreaded rebounded goal. Lukas Podolski came off for Gervinho in the 69th minute, Arsene Wenger no doubt hoping the Ivory Coast international could provide the sort of back line-unlocking pace the visiting side lacked throughout the match, perhaps due to the conditions of the late-Birmingham rainy afternoon.
More Villa possession, more Villa control of the match, more frustration from Arsenal as they tried in vain to win the ball back. A foul by Carl Jenkinson set up a free kick 35 yards out in the 74th minute, which found Benteke's head. His header, though, found Szezesny's hands. Right after the Szezesny distribution, Gervinho played a short pass to Ramsey, who was a bit closer to the goal this time in his attempt, firing just wide left. As Giroud took a knock to his ankle and gingerly ran off to the side to receive further treatment, Andrei Arshavin came on in the 76th minute, replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain.
A minute later, Villa midfielder Ashley Westwood found Brett Holman and he launched a rocket off his right foot from 25 yards out, which Szezesny deflected backwards and hard off the top of the crossbar. The subsequent corner was of no consequence and Arsenal brought the match back to their attacking half. A corner by Villa in the 83rd minute, their 7th of the match (compared to four by Arsenal at that time) was headed out of danger, but Villa continued to dictate matters in their attacking half as their continued defensive pressure applied was effective in dislodging Arsenal whenever they regained possession.
An 86th minute substitution saw Olivier Giroud make his way off in favor of Francis Coquelin, a curious substitution that appeared to concede the victory as the introduction brought on another deep-lying midfielder that was better-equipped to deal with the Villa pressure. However, Arshavin played an excellent cross in to Gervinho in the 88th minute, but the effort was kicked out behind the goal at the last second and out for a corner. Another corner was won after Villa headed the first attempt out of play, but the 2nd corner by Cazorla ended the Arsenal attack thanks to an Arsenal foul in the box.
Villa substituted out Weimann for midfielder Marc Albrighton in the 90th minute. Arsenal played pass-after-pass in the hopes of finding a last-second unlock that could gain them the goal needed to secure three points. Nothing came from the valiant attempts and, as the final whistle sounded, Arsenal were left wondering if it was the wet conditions that led them to play they way they did, or if this was a regression to form the side saw prior to their emotional North London derby victory just seven days prior.