Home discomfort continues for Aston Villa as Lambert’s side chase shadows
Two wins from 11 games at Villa Park is a real cause for concern
Paul Lambert: his side have scored just eight times in front of their own supporters
The last time Aston Villa beat Arsenal at home they were two goals down at half-time and came back to win 3-2. Villa found themselves in the same position at the midway point here but there seemed little chance of Paul Lambert’s team reprising the improbable fightback that Dion Dublin inspired in December 1998.
An uncomfortable feeling of déja-vu is sweeping through this club. Twelve months on from arguably the most challenging month of Lambert’s managerial career, when Villa were dumped out of the League Cup semi-final by Bradford City and sucked towards the bottom of the Premier League, the Midlands club are on the slide again. Sitting 11th in the table, this is a team desperately short of confidence, in particular at home.
Villa have now won only two out of 11 home matches in the Premier League this season. They have collected only eight points here – their worst record in a top-flight campaign since three points for a win was introduced – and scored only eight goals in front of their own supporters, which is the poorest return in the division.
They are statistics to make season-ticket holders weep. Villa, in short, are playing relegation football at home, even if there was some encouragement to glean from the spirt and fight they showed in the second half here, when Arsenal became complacent.
With their next two away games against Liverpool and Everton, Villa desperately need to collect points in their upcoming home fixtures against West Bromwich Albion and West Ham. That task would be made considerably easier if the Christian Benteke that scored goals of every description last season rediscovered his touch in front of goal. The hope for Villa fans is that the diving header that Benteke nodded in at the far post in the 76th minute is a sign of things to come.
It was the Belgian international’s first goal since September and provided Villa with something to cling to at the end of a strange game that Arsenal had seemed to be totally controlling.
The other positive news for Villa at the end of a sixth defeat in eight matches concerned Nathan Baker, who had required eight minutes of treatment after Serge Gnabry’s shot caught him full in the face. Baker left the field on a stretcher, wearing an oxygen mask and was clearly in some discomfort but it was later reported that he was suffering from mild concussion.
The pre-match entertainment on the big screens inside Villa Park included footage of that opening day game at the Emirates Stadium – a 3-1 Villa victory result that proved to be no barometer for the season ahead for either club. Villa supporters could not have imagined that when the two clubs met again, five months down the road, they would have endured such miserable results and performances at home, culminating in the third-round FA Cup defeat against Sheffield United, from League One, 10 days ago.
Villa welcome the chance to play on the counterattack and look much more threatening then than when they have time on the ball. On a couple of occasions Gabriel Agbonlahor’s pace stretched Arsenal’s defence here but not many teams are capable of soaking up prolonged periods of pass-you-to-death possession against Wenger’s side without conceding. Villa, on the evidence of recent form, were never going to be one of them.
So it proved when Arsenal struck twice in the space of 59 seconds, exposing Villa’s shortcomings.
Lambert’s tactics board had already gone out the window by that point. Set up in a 3-5-2 formation initially, Villa were forced to reconfigure into a 4-4-2 after Baker’s departure. At times it was as much as Villa could do to get a touch of the ball.
For Villa fans, it is becoming a familiar sight, as they watch their team chase shadows and play without any real direction or method. At least Benteke’s goal gave Villa fans something to cheer.