Aston Villa were comfortably beaten by Arsenal on Saturday as Steven Gerrard and his players were disappointingly second best.
Villa were poor both on and off the ball throughout, as although the Gunners did well to frustrate us and limit our ability to threaten them, we were simply not good enough either to make it more of a contest.
From Gerrard bemoaning some familiar issues to the same individuals struggling but keeping their place in the side, the concerns and frustrations watching Villa’s defeat this weekend were nothing new, and it’s concerning in itself that we haven’t yet found solutions or changed anything to improve the situation.
Time for Gerrard to address, and find solution, for ‘passive’ Villa
It’s something we’ve heard from Gerrard quite a few times since he arrived, as he criticised his players for being too passive in the first half and showing too much respect to the opposition.
Part of this issue could come down to the players not understanding or fully buying into the tactical instructions given to them, something Gerrard alluded to in his post-match interview, but the onus is still on the coaches to ensure the players are prepared and up for the game.
The lack of effort or urgency and coming off second best in all departments across the pitch is unexcusable, especially at home when it’s on us to be the aggressors and take the game to the opposition.
Douglas Luiz replacement a priority
The midfield as a whole was poor again on Saturday, as it provided us with no sense of control or presence to win that battle, and that subsequently leads to struggles at both ends of the pitch.
Douglas Luiz is simply not good enough to play as a No.6. Time and time again this point comes up, but to simply ‘keep play ticking over’ is not a justification for him to continually be in the starting XI.
His lack of defensive awareness and positioning is a huge concern, and he has shown no improvement in that area of his game. However, his inability to make himself an option to receive the ball in midfield is perhaps even more of a worry, as he doesn’t command a game and is often bypassed which leads to our issues in build-up play.
Style of play negatively impacts Buendia, Coutinho
Building on the point above, unless Villa have a rhythm and direction in our play to bring our creative playmakers into the game, they’re going to struggle to make things happen.
Neither Emi Buendia nor Philippe Coutinho were at their best against Arsenal, but that is largely down to the fact that we didn’t play well enough or impose ourselves in midfield to open up spaces for them in the final third to hurt the visitors.
Having our back four constantly pump long balls up to Ollie Watkins is not going to bring the best out of our front three, as it’s just a constant battle to see if the ball drops to us and they’re close enough to the Villa frontman to pick up possession.
Villa again fail to play to Watkins’ strengths
It’s incredibly frustrating to hear groans of despair around Villa Park when Watkins loses possession.
Admittedly, he does need to improve his first touch as he did lose the ball a few times by simply struggling to get it under his control.
However, Villa went back to forcing him to wrestle with Arsenal’s physical centre-halves for long balls forward again and asking him to hold the ball up with no real support around him. Villa have to find a way to get the ball into Buendia and Coutinho, which then allows Watkins to make runs off his defender to provide a proper threat.
We seemingly realised that for a brief period as he returned to goalscoring form, but we went back to the wrong strategy again on Saturday.
Gerrard must also improve players at his disposal ahead of transfer window
While there is no doubt that Villa need to improve the squad in the summer transfer window, Gerrard must also look at the players available to him and improve them.
After most defeats, he emphasises the need for investment to bring in new players, and in his defence, he does have the right to stamp his mark on the squad and sign individuals who are perhaps better suited to his style of play.
However, he has what he has right now, and there is still a lot of talent and quality in the squad. The Villa boss needs to focus on getting more out of them and taking their respective games to the next level, while also making changes to the side and giving others a chance to show their worth before the end of the season.