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What went wrong? Aston Villa 0 - 4 Arsenal Tactical Analysis

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A crushing disappointment of a match in which Aston Villa never looked anywhere near the level of Arsenal - a fact brutally exposed as they tried to match the Gunners in  midfield and were dominated.

Here's a brief run-down of the key tactical elements.

Tactical set-ups

Villa vs Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

Aston Villa:

Tim Sherwood stuck with the 4-3-2-1 which beat Liverpool in the semi-final despite its recent wobbles in the league. The big selection choices were the use of Charles N'Zogbia as one of the attacking midfielders instead of Gabby Abgonlahor as a second striker, the selection of Alan Hutton as a defensively minded right-back over Leandro Bacuna and Jores Okore being judged fit enough to play.

Those choices set Villa up for a midfield battle, needing their three deeper midfielders to win the ball in order to get in to Christian Benteke where he could be supported by the attacking midfielders.


Arsene Wenger went for a 4-2-3-1, with the crucial choice being Theo Walcott in the central striking position instead of Olivier Giroud. With overlapping full-backs, they would look to work it down the flanks and get in behind the Claret and Blue defence.

#1 - Arsenal win the pressing battle

As the underdogs, Villa broadly had two options to try and shut down Arsenal's passing game which had ripped them apart earlier in the season - sit back and deny them space, or press them and disrupt their rhythm.

Tim Sherwood chose to press, a high risk strategy but one which had paid off against Liverpool when Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley had dominated the ball and provided it to Jack Grealish and Benteke.

However in this case it backfired terribly. From the beginning, Arsenal's midfield looked both quicker and stronger to get to the ball in midfield, typified by Alexis Sanchez who won a series of tussles in the first-half. Delph and Cleverley, Villa's key tacklers, were unable to cope with the pace of Arsenal's midfield runners and started giving away cheap fouls. Cleverley received a yellow in the 14th minute, and Delph should have followed into the book for tugging Sanchez back.

If they were overwhelmed, it was in large part because they were receiving very little aid from the men in front of them, Grealish and N'Zogbia, who did nothing to slow down the flow of balls from Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin at the base of the Arsenal midfield - in particular Cazorla who completed 79 passes with a 93.7% accuracy rate according to

That lack of defensive effort was typified in the first goal, as Walcott burst past a disinterested N'Zogbia on the edge of the box to blast the ball home.

#2 - Arsenal dominate the flanks

In terms of width, Villa's 4-3-2-1 always looked vulnerable as Cleverley and Delph, who were given the double task of guarding the middle and the flanks, were fatally overworked.

Both the Arsenal and Villa full-backs looked to come forwards, but it was always the men in red and white who looked the more dangerous. With Coquelin doing an excellent job of defending the centre-backs, Bellerin and Monreal had no fear coming forward.

Oddly, of Villa's two full-backs, Kieran Richardson was much more assured than Alan Hutton, who could neither stop Sanchez going down the outside or cutting onto the inside. A series of early corners and balls turned narrowly wide showed the risk, but desperate defending was enough to fend off a goal. However for Walcott's goal it was telling that Hutton couldn't stop the initial cross and Richardon couldn't stop Sanchez's header back across goal.

For the second goal, Monreal's run dragged away Hutton, and Cleverley - perhaps wary of making a challenge while already on a yellow - gave Alexis Sanchez too much space for what was an admittedly brilliant shot.

#3 - Villa's predictable attack

While Arsenal's attack was predictably brilliant, it was Villa's utter lack of offensive threat which really gave the game its grim aspect.

If the option of floating the ball to Benteke wasn't available, there were simply no other ideas - a fatal flaw when Delph was really the only player capable of putting in a genuinely dangerous cross and he rarely received the ball with the time or space to do so. The lack of Bacuna from the beginning just emphasised how little ability crossing ability there was in the Villa side.

N'Zogbia and Grealish both essentially became passengers, rarely receiving the ball and hesitant when they did, especially the Frenchman, whose inability to pick out a ball was painfully highlighted. The transitions from defence to attack were dreadfully slow, always allowing Arsenal to get numbers back.

Benteke looked more and more disinterested as it became clear that Villa were slumping to a defeat, leaving no attacking threat whatsoever. Things improved very slightly when Abgonlahor came on, who at least had the speed and confidence to run at the opposition and give them a decision to make.


This was a gutting match for Villa fans and Tim Sherwood spared no time in apologising and making it clear that some of the players wouldn't be returning next year. In addition to the last two league matches, the limitations of this group of players have been clearly exposed.

Essentially Sherwood managed to cobble together a system in which the efforts of Cleverley and Delph, the trickery of Grealish and the aerial power of Benteke were enough to scrape Premier League survival and get us to this FA Cup Final. However there were gaping weaknesses - a pressing game which requires N'Zogbia to work consistently, the exposure of our mediocre full-backs and the lack of real attacking intelligence in the team.

Arguably Sherwood chose the wrong tactical approach in pressing in the midfield, but it's hard to believe that sitting back and hoping to hit on the counter would have been much more successful.

Without Benteke, it's a crucial summer to decide which players are really good enough to avoid another relegation scrap. Delph, Cleverley, Grealish, Okore and Clark are the only players clearly at that level.