The key paragraphs (Not the full article mods dont kill me)
The result means Arsenal will finish outside the top seven, their worst placing in 25 years, rendering qualification for Europe via the Premier League impossible. It is a testament to how far they have fallen that Arsenal beating City or Liverpool probably now ranks as a bigger shock than this Villa win over Mikel Arteta’s side.
We did not learn a great deal that was new about Arsenal in this game. Their wins against the top two came playing in a particular style: sitting deep, surrendering possession, looking to attack on the break and capitalise on defensive errors. In this match, however, the onus was on Arteta’s team to take the game to their opposition. “A different challenge,” as the head coach put it.
When the tables are turned, this Arsenal team still struggle. Arteta’s team have a creative block. Having dominated the ball against Tottenham less than 10 days ago, they found themselves sucker-punched. This time they had 69 per cent of possession yet failed to muster a single shot on target.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be altogether surprising that Arsenal look more comfortable as a counter-attacking side — that is seemingly the model Unai Emery spent the first half of the season attempting to implement. When Arsenal spent big on a wide player in the summer, they opted for Nicolas Pepe, a player who had flourished in France playing almost exclusively on the break. In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have one of the world’s great counter-attacking forwards. In some respects, surrendering the initiative plays to Arsenal’s strengths. It also hides one of their weaknesses, enabling Arteta to field his vulnerable centre-halves in a deep compact unit.
Arsenal’s performance at Wembley felt like it reflected a necessity, not a philosophy. Arteta’s ambition is to be a ball-dominant team who make a multitude of chances. Eddie Nketiah’s flicked header against the post in this match felt costly, but largely because it was Arsenal’s only chance of any note in the game. Arsenal’s continuing problems at defensive set-pieces mean they simply can’t afford the margins to be this tight.
There is also a personnel issue here. Arsenal lined up with a front three of Aubameyang, Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette. They are all finishers, not creators. Arsenal had the artillery but no-one to provide the ammunition. Arsenal fans have not forgotten the trauma of seeing Lucas Torreira deployed as the team’s most advanced midfielder in the more desperate days of Emery’s reign.
It is tempting, of course, to cite the continued absence of Mesut Ozil, left out of the matchday squad once again having failed to reconcile with Arteta. Despite the fact he has been absent from the first team since March, no player has created more chances for Arteta’s Arsenal (seven).
Arsenal need some guile, some inspiration. They need some direct running, someone who can break open a deadlocked game. They need someone who can think outside the box, outside the box. Given the premium attached to those kinds of attributes, it will not be easy. Arsenal will need to be creative in the market too.
In Premier League terms, Arsenal have fallen short this season. Now they must hope for redemption in the FA Cup final.