Arsene Wenger was out-strategised by Martin O'Neill
Aston Villa deservedly won at the Emirates yesterday. The reason for their clear victory was that Martin O'Neill got his tactics totally correct and Arsene Wenger had his team selection and tactics wrong.
The Arsenal 4-5-1 with Diaby supporting Bendtner from deep was the right formation for Man Utd because of the champion's attacking firepower and our consequential need to consolidate the central midfield.
But when playing a team who have their own 4-5-1 with ten players looking to predominantly play defence in their own half and rely on quick counter-attacking breaks- it is not right for Arsene to use the 4-5-1. There was a clear need to play two strikers to give a run around to the Villa defence. Bentdner - who was looking lacklustre anyway unlike his play against Man Utd - was isolated, squeezed and desperately needed support. Having the electric Carlos Vela alongside him would have given Arsenal greater attacking threat and more likely have tested Villa's defence.
Diaby often came out to the wings to pick up possession because of the central congestion and often got in the way of Walcott. Denilson and Cesc had little forward options to pass to and were outnumbered by the Villa central midfield three of Barry, Petrov and Sidwell who performed their primary responsibilty easily of providing a tight defensive blanket in front of the Villa back four.
It was too easy for Villa - they knew that their manager had got the tactics rights and that this system could easily counter Wenger's system.
By the time that Adebayor came on midway through the second half the damage was done - Villa were very high on confidence and had got into a great defensive groove gave whilst the Arsenal youngsters looked frustrated and had a flagging demeanour and body-language on the pitch.
When Villa got their goal on the break after Sagna went down with a twisted ankle there was effort but lack of real confidence in the body language of the players that they could comeback. The excellent Agbonlahor goal sealed it - that was the knock-out blow for this Arsenal team.
Unfortunately Wenger got the tactics wrong for Villa's system and we could not build on the much needed confidence boost of the win last week against Man Utd. This somewhat compounds - and indeed underlines - the original mistake by Wenger not to buy a top level centre-back and CM in the summer (see this post for further analysis) which was required to add the cement to the great foundations of this young squad.
The only positive I can take from defeat is that it jolts Wenger to act in January. It is clear to me that the young Arsenal players look like they desperately need more experienced heads to ease the responsibilty that Wenger had placed on their shoulders by his bad summer gamble.