If you only watched the second half of today's Aston Villa match against Arsenal, you'd come away encouraged by the state of the team. If you only watched the first half, you'd be demanding that everybody be fired. And if you watched it all, you're likely quite confused. The facts are straightforward: Aston Villa lost 1-2 to a much better Arsenal side thanks to the most brain-dead minute of football we've seen all season, but Christian Benteke scored. The interpretation is a bit more difficult though.
The two Arsenal goals came within a minute of each other, with the second coming 17 seconds after play had resumed. Here was the first:
Jack Wilshere found himself in a perfect position thanks largely to the poor positioning of Ashley Westwood. Westwood had moved to provide double coverage to someone in midfield, and Wilshere took his opportunity to streak forward, receive a cross, and bury the ball. Then play resumed and this happened:
Olivier Giroud managed to skate through an obviously discombobulated Aston Villa defense and nab Arsenal the two-goal lead.
Both of these happened after Nathan Baker was injured in the 14th minute, so perhaps Aston Villa were a bit shaken up. Baker lost consciousness, and had to be stretchered off (he has since become responsive, and likely has a mild concussion), and Villa seemed to be a bit more timid after the injury. Nevertheless, the injury can't explain what was, by all accounts, a terrible first half. Villa were dominated in possession, and looked absolutely lost for most of the period.
The second half, however, saw Villa come charging out of the gate and begin controlling the match. It would all culminate with a 75th minute goal by Christian Benteke, his first since September. Here, have a look:
And another, because why not? It's not as if we get to do this all that frequently:
From then until the end of the match, Arsenal would hang on for dear life, as Villa pressed desperately to get the equalizer.
As for that murky interpretation I mentioned, it remains inexplicable why Villa cannot string together two good halves. The second wasn't perfect, but it was good football, and if Villa routinely played like that, they'd be far more secure in their position than they currently are. But efforts like we saw in the first half undermine that goal, and Aston Villa are currently on the precipice of being in a relegation fight.
This is a team who are, in theory, capable of real moments of greatness. But they are also a team who seem to not be able to string those moments together. Whether that is the fault of the players or the manager remains to be seen. But regardless of the source, I think that problem gives Villa a claim to being the most frustrating team in football.
In the end, a 1-2 loss to the team at the top of the table isn't a terrible result. Certainly, we could have seen Villa get a point, but this seems to be about the best loss we could expect. It was kept close and Benteke scored. That's something, isn't it?
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