Aston Villa – Match Report vs Arsenal 21/07/20

This is a guest piece by Charlie Webster.

In a crucial match, Aston Villa gave their survival hopes a huge boost by overcoming a buoyant Arsenal side 1-0, who were coming off the back of two big wins versus Liverpool and Man City. Aston Villa lined up in a 4-3-3 which really resembled 4-1-4-1 for most of the game as Villa scarcely had the ball. Arsenal, on the other hand, began the game in a 3-4-3 but changed to more of a 4-2-4 as they looked to chase the game, towards the end Arsenal were effectively playing with only two defenders as Villa continued to frustrate them.

This was the story for much of the game with Villa being well disciplined in their shape, content to let Arsenal circulate the ball amongst their defence before springing direct counter attacks out wide upon regaining the ball. Villa’s excellent shape and discipline was evident as they prevented Arsenal from registering a shot on target the whole game. Aston Villa now, deservedly, go into the final day with their destiny in their own hands.

Ratings

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level
  • B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
  • C – Average for the level, rewatch
  • D – Below average in this match

Ezri Konsa

Player Profile

  • Nationality: English
  • Age: 22
  • Date of Birth: 23/10/1997
  • Current Club: Aston Villa
  • Career: Charlton Athletic, Brentford, Aston Villa
  • Position: Centre Back
  • Preferred foot: Right

Konsa operated as the right centre back in Villa’s back four, playing a key role in Aston Villa securing a clean sheet and three points. Konsa was solid at the back, not losing a single duel all game. He tended to keep his passes short and simple generally choosing the safest option, usually either Mings, Reina or the nearest midfielder, which is reflected in his 85% passing accuracy. As such he relied on his teammates to play the more difficult passes, only attempting two long passes himself, completing one. Although, his passes were not the most ambitious or impactful he showed good technique and retained possession for his side, whilst ensuring his teammates were not put under pressure due to his passes.

Konsa demonstrated his defensive awareness throughout the game, positioning himself well to stay part of the compact Villa unit. His excellent positioning allowed him to consistently block crosses and passing lanes. This was epitomised early in the second half when he stayed tight to Aubameyang and made a last-ditch block to prevent a goal bound effort.

Within the game Konsa exhibited good pace, regularly managing to match Arsenal’s pacey forwards Eddie Nketiah and Aubameyang. His pace allowed him to get back in position when Villa’s defensive line was caught out higher up the pitch than usual. Furthermore, he combined pace with his ability to use his body well whether it for blocking passing lanes or for blocking Arsenals attacker’s paths, which only emphasised his solid defensive awareness. He could often be seen pointing at his teammates, advising them on where to be or what pass to take, a level of communication which bodes well for the future of the young defender.

At only 6ft tall Konsa is on the small side for a centre back and as such he, rightly, allowed Mings to take care of any aerial issues Arsenal provided. Luckily for Konsa Arsenal persisted with their short passing style and so there was very little for the Villa defence to worry about aerially. Against more combative strikers, or if Arsenal had a more aerial threat to bring on, Konsa may have a had a tougher time. This also meant Konsa was largely ineffective for Villa from corners, he did provide a lay off for a shot following a corner but other than that he failed to meaningfully connect to any set piece, with the taker probably looking to pick out Mings instead.

Despite being only 6ft, Konsa still had somewhat of a physical presence in the defence against Arsenal. He did not shy away from a challenge and was strong in the tackle when he needed to be. In other more 1v1 situations he remained composed, with a good body shape, and avoided diving into unnecessary tackles or being drawn out of position. Konsa played his part in an excellent defensive display by Aston Villa, but it would be interesting to see how he copes against a side who are a bit more direct or have taller, more aerially proficient strikers.

Rating – A2

Douglas Luiz

Player Profile

  • Nationality: Brazilian
  • Age: 22
  • Date of Birth: 09/05/1998
  • Current Club: Aston Villa
  • Career: Vasco Da Gama, Manchester City, Girona (L), Aston Villa
  • Position: Defensive Midfield
  • Preferred foot: Right

Douglas Luiz operated as the defensive midfielder in Aston Villa’s system. His tactical discipline in this role was impressive as he provided a solid anchor screening the defence and reliable cover for his team, rarely straying from his duties as the ‘number 6’.

He showcased his ability as an adept ball winner regularly finding himself in positions to pick up loose and second balls. He also stepped up with a few key tackles, particularly in the second half, all game he was strong in the tackle while also being largely successful. Despite his height Luiz was still competitive in the air, yet this was to more limited success. He could also be seen pressing well in the midfield. Quickly closing down any Arsenal player who picked up the ball between the lines forcing them to retreat or lose possession. Crucially, he avoided giving away unnecessary fouls in these situations which would have put his team on the back foot.

Although, his ability to get on the ball and influence the game was not as impressive as his ability off it. Early in the game he tended to stay with his marker making little attempt to make an option for his centre backs, instead other midfielders Hourihane, McGinn and even Grealish dropped deep to move the ball for Aston Villa. In his defence Arsenal enjoyed 69% possession so getting on the ball proved difficult for most Villa players, especially in the second half. But when Luiz did find himself in possession his passes were not too ambitious or noteworthy, while his 73% passing accuracy is rather average considering his passes were not often the most progressive.

Being 5’8 Luiz has a good amount of pace and agility and on the couple occasions he did make a driving run he looked strong on the ball and in control. But it would have been good to see more of these line breaking runs from Luiz. Again, these may have been rare in this game as Villa struggled for possession, so it would be interesting to see how Luiz’s performance alters for a more passing orientated, possession-based team. In this type of environment, it would provide a clearer idea of whether he does possess the necessary passing range and dribbling ability to influence a game on the ball as well as he does off it.

He also showed adaptability later in the second half as Villa changed to more of a 4-4-1-1 with McGinn pushing on slightly to press Arsenals defenders in the hope of a forging a counterattack. He looked solid in a two alongside Nakamba, again displaying tactical discipline to hold his position and the required intelligence to cover for his teammates, such as Targett, when they were caught higher up the pitch.

In addition, for a young player, he showed intelligent gamesmanship. Two tactical fouls on Pepe in the second half killed potentially dangerous Arsenal attacks while he was sometimes seen kicking the ball away or picking it up to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm. Maybe not the prettiest side of the game, but a side nonetheless.

Rating – A2

Matt Targett

Player Profile

  • Nationality: English
  • Age: 24
  • Date of Birth: 18/09/1995
  • Current Club: Aston Villa
  • Career: Southampton, Fulham (L), Aston Villa
  • Position: Left Back
  • Preferred foot: Left

Matt Targett played the full ninety minutes operating as left back in Villa’s back four. Arsenal failed to trouble Targett much in the first half. He got across the ground well and used his frame to stop crosses getting into the Villa box on numerous occasions. He received good cover from his winger whether it be Grealish or Trezeguet, who often swapped wings, allowing Targett to tuck in close to Mings and further restrict the space for Arsenal’s attackers and defend the box. He was quick in the press and moved along well with his team as the ball progressed to his side, often forcing the attacker to go backwards, or winning the ball himself. In all he made two tackles and won five duels.

However, offensively Targett offered little only managing one cross the whole game, which was not particularly dangerous. He made a couple offensive runs in the first half but did not receive the ball. His only real significant attacking moment came in the second half where he showed good ball control and movement to play a neat one-two with Davis, but nothing materialised as Targett failed to supply a final ball. His lack of offensive contribution could be put down to Villa’s approach to the game and the fact Arsenal retained possession for long periods. Despite this, on the rare occasion he did end up in an attack he failed to contribute anything successful or display any real creativity with his passing and so was largely disappointing in this department.

The second half was more of a struggle too for Targett as Arsenal brought on Pepe and changed system. A lot more crosses found their way into Villa’s box from Targett’s side as he looked slower to get out to Arsenal’s wide men, struggling when his winger was absent to provide cover. Additionally, Pepe caused Targett far more problems than any player had in the first half generally getting the better of him in 1v1s. Pepe also drew a yellow card from Targett who committed a reckless foul in a dangerous position on the edge of the Villa box, this could highlight Targett’s weakness against high level, skilful wingers.

Targett formed part of a well organised Villa defence in this game and was hardly spectacular but instead solid.

Rating – B2

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