Aston Villa fell to a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night, with Steven Gerrard coming under further criticism and pressure.
Villa were fortunate to go into the half-time break just one goal down, as although there was some excellent last-ditch defending, our defensive display as a whole was chaotic and frenzied as there was no real organisation or shape to our set-up off the ball.
That in turn saw Arsenal dominate and create plenty of opportunities, and although Douglas Luiz scored directly from a corner once again to draw us level in the second half as we showed improvement, we conceded just minutes later with Emiliano Martinez undoubtedly disappointed he couldn’t do more to prevent both goals.
As a result, those goals from Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli sealed all three points for the Gunners, while the loss leaves Villa in 19th place with four defeats from our opening five games and the third worst goal difference in the league.
Should Leicester City beat Man Utd on Thursday night, that would move us to the bottom of the Premier League, and so questions will continue to be asked of Gerrard’s future as there is no significant signs of improvement.
Gerrard still getting balance of side wrong
While it was refreshing to see both Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey start behind Ollie Watkins, the midfield was immediately highlighted as a problem both in terms of the system and personnel.
Douglas Luiz was arguably the best performer in that area of the pitch at the weekend but was dropped, while Gerrard persisted with John McGinn despite his poor form.
With Arsenal going for a 4-2-3-1 system, it was evident we were getting overrun and outplayed in midfield throughout the first half, and yet Gerrard didn’t even make any changes at half-time. We did improve after the break, but ultimately there was still a clear lack of cohesion and balance to the side.
McGinn not performing at level required
After appointing him as captain, Gerrard publicly noted that McGinn wouldn’t be undroppable and would have to earn his place in the side like everyone else.
It doesn’t seem as though that has been put into practice though as despite being well off the pace, losing 50/50 duels and generally having little to no influence on our play, the Scottish international continues to start.
Whether it’s a system change to help him out and not leave him so exposed or a break from the side, Gerrard has to change something if he wants to get the best out of our captain.
Luiz snubbed on bench amid exit talk
Despite impressing at the weekend and given the fact that he adds a crucial dynamic to our midfield when involved with his technical ability and passing, it was disappointing but not surprising to see Luiz start on the bench.
He made a key contribution with his goal directly from a corner, his third this season in such fashion including one in pre-season, but it could potentially be his last decisive act in a Villa shirt.
In his post-match interview, Gerrard raised doubts over Luiz’s future given he has less than a year left on his Villa contract, and so as he continues to struggle to get into the Villa XI, a deadline-day exit could be on the cards for the frustrated Brazilian.
Kamara lone soldier in midfield
Left exposed by his midfield teammates and with the front three pressing in Arsenal’s half in a disjointed defensive performance, Boubacar Kamara continued to battle in the heart of the midfield.
It was tough going for him as he tried to disrupt and break up Arsenal’s attacking play, but he did well in the circumstances and offered some semblance of a foundation for the rest of the team.
That said, he needs more support in there. Whether it’s playing two midfielders deep to offer protection in front of the defence in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Gerrard can’t keep relying on Kamara to shut up shop across the pitch.
Buendia, Bailey given chance but unable to showcase quality
With no defensive base to build on, it was hard work for Villa’s frontline as although they showed some glimpses of quality build-up play, it was all too brief and rare.
There is still a real belief that Buendia, Bailey and Watkins could be our most potent attacking trident, with Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings making way on this occasion.
Unfortunately, given we struggled to control possession and the tempo of the game, we didn’t get to see that trio have the level of influence that they are capable of having, and so it’s hoped Gerrard doesn’t chop and change once again and gives them a run of games to find their form.