What do you get when you combine penalty kicks, a red card, nine yellows, blood, injuries, an angry crowd and controversy? The answer of course is today’s season-opener at the Emirates between Arsenal and Aston Villa. The match was also filled with fouls and errors, but was fast-paced, exciting and highly-charged. It drained a lot of energy just watching it. Unfortunately for the home side they came out on the wrong end of a 3-1 score though. It was the Gunners first loss in a home opener since Coventry thumped them 3-0 at Highbury back in the 1993/94 season via a Mick Quinn hat trick.
Everything was rosy at the start of today’s match as Arsenal jumped into a 1-0 lead after just five minutes. Striker Olivier Giroud tapped in an excellent low cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with his left foot past Villa keeper Brad Guzan. Tomas Rosicky engineered the play by beating a challenge in his own end and carrying the ball up the left side of the pitch. He fed it to Oxlade-Chamberlain who ran with the ball and crossed it over for a waiting Giroud in the six-yard box.
The lead lasted just 16 minutes as Villa leveled the score in the 22nd minute. Gabriel Agbonlahor made the Gunners defence look silly when he easily beat Laurent Koscielny and broke in alone on keeper Wojciech Szczesny. The goalie pulled him down for a penalty kick and also earned a yellow card for his effort. Szczesny redeemed himself somewhat by saving Christian Benteke’s awful penalty kick low to the left corner, but Villa’s Belgian striker was gifted with a high rebound which he headed into the net.
Arsenal left back Kieran Gibbs was substituted after 29 minutes when he was cut above his left eye after colliding with an opponent while challenging for a header. Gibbs seemed to be okay, but Carl Jenkinson replaced him in what may have been a premature move. Jenkinson took over at right-back while Bacary Sagna moved over to the left side. Villa then carved out a couple of more chances, but the first half ended 1-1.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was nowhere to be seen when the second half kicked off as he was replaced by Santi Cazorla. The young English international appeared to be suffering from a knee problem when the first 45 minutes came to an end. Rosicky hammered a shot over the bar early in the second stanza after Giroud set him up in the 18-yard box and Villa’s Fabian Delph hit the goalpost a few minutes later. The ball hit the inside of the post to Szczesny’s left and then skimmed across the goal line and back out. It was a good test for the new goal line technology system Hawk-Eye and play was rightly allowed to carry on.
Villa was awarded a second penalty in the 61st minute when Agbonlahor was chopped down again, this time by Koscielny. Referee Anthony Taylor made the controversial call after replays suggested the defender may have just nicked the ball first with his studs. However, when you go lunging in from behind in the penalty area you’re asking for trouble and that’s what Koscielny got as he also received a yellow card on the play. Benteke hammered a low shot past Szczesny on the ensuing spot kick to put Villa in front 2-1.
Koscielny received his marching orders from Taylor six minutes later after receiving a second yellow for a late challenge on Andreas Weimann. Arsenal actually played better with 10 men and Rosicky forced Guzan into a great save as the Gunners pressed the action while looking for the equalizer. They were caught on a counter attack in the 85th minute though and Antonio Luna sealed the victory when he slid the ball past Szczesny on a two-on-one break. This goal also resulted in chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “spend some money” from some of the home fans which were aimed at manager Arsene Wenger.
There were some good individual performances on the pitch, especially by the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the first half and Rosicky, but it was just one of those days where nothing went right for the Gunners. However, to be a top football side you need to overcome adversity much like a championship boxer must fight through cut eyes and a broken hand.
For those fans who insist Wenger needs to spend some money before the transfer window is over this loss is probably a blessing in disguise as it should spur some activity before Sept. 2. The squad is arguably weaker than last season and the defence was opened up like a can of beans on several occasions today. It appears that area needs to be addressed first before attacking players are bought.
The Gunners will need to be better on Wednesday night Aug. 21 as they travel over to Turkey to take on Fenerbahce in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying playoff.
Arsenal Player Ratings-Sat Aug. 17 – (Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa)
The keeper caused the first penalty and saved it and also gifted Villa with another chance with a brutal clearance. He also recovered from that though as he made it back to his goal just in time.
Sagna was steady and had a decent match even though the score would indicate otherwise. Came off after 91 minutes with Lukas Podolski replacing him after landing awkwardly while challenging for a header.
Looked uncomfortable on several occasions especially when Benteke was charging down on him. He basically had a mediocre match.
Agbonlahor made him look silly in the first half which led to a penalty. He gave up the second penalty and was sent off with a pair of yellows after 67 minutes.
Gibbs only played 29 minutes before being replaced by Carl Jenkinson due to a cut eye. He was doing fine up until then.
Ramsey was steady but not spectacular. He played well defensively in the first half and moved to centre-back when Koscielny was sent off.
It wasn’t one of Wilshere’s best matches. The effort was there, but not the results.
He was likely the best Gunner on the pitch in the first half. He was lively and confident with the ball and created the goal. Unfortunately, he came off at half time with an injury and was replaced by Santi Cazorla.
Rosicky also had a fine game. He helped set up Arsenal’s goal and created several other chances, but his finishing let him down.
Walcott had some good spells on both sides of the pitch, but he wasn’t consistent over the 90 minutes.
Giroud scored the goal, showed some creativity with Rosicky and got stuck in when he could.
Came on after 29 minutes for Gibbs and didn’t look out of place.
Replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain at half time. He didn’t really have much of an impact on the game and his casual play ultimately led to Villa’s second penalty.
Came on for Sagna after 91 minutes when the fullback was injured.