(Olivier Giroud 6)
ASTON VILLA 3
(Christian Benteke 22, 61-pen, Antonio Luna 86)
After a summer of frustration in the transfer market, the worst fears of the Arsenal supporters were confirmed with an opening-day defeat at home by Aston Villa on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger will doubtless question the legitimacy of the match-winning penalty and the sending off of Laurent Koscielny, and both with good reason, too.
But the fact is that Arsenal are on the back foot already.
They started this match without a single new signing, their only acquisition Yaya Sanogo left on the bench.
The demands for reinforcements will now intensify.
Wenger insisted in his programme notes that the club “continue to be active in the transfer market and will be until the end of the season… we are looking to add to the squad”.
Expect the supporters to now hold him to his word.
In many ways, this was hardly the ideal opening fixture for Arsenal.
Aston Villa are horrible, and that’s meant as compliment of the highest order.
From the start, they targeted Jack Wilshere with challenges that were always more physical than necessary, but rarely physical enough to warrant punitive action.
They knew that he would crack and it took just half an hour for their ploy to succeed.
A powerful block from Ron Vlaar sent the England midfielder spinning through the air like a child’s toy.
Wilshere bounced back to his feet, charged at Vlaar, butted him repeatedly with his chest, and both men were promptly booked.
All over the park, Arsenal players were cut down with ruthless efficiency.
Villa manager Paul Lambert had researched his prey well.
It had all started so well. Arsenal opened the scoring early and the tension around the stadium appeared to ease.
Villa’s fullback Matthew Lowton was caught high up the pitch and Arsenal broke to devastating effect, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain powering into space.
The quality of his cross was so high that Olivier Giroud was granted a simple finish past poor Brad Guzan.
Reassured by the goal, Arsenal began to settle into their groove.
They passed the ball among themselves, attempting to stretch Aston Villa until their seams split. They did not succeed.
Villa were back in the game midway through the first half.
Gabriel Agbonlahor, reborn under Lambert, sped straight through the Arsenal defence and was sent sprawling by Wojciech Szczesny.
Referee Antony Taylor took his time, but finally pointed to the spot.
Szczesny saved his Christian Benteke’s first effort, but the ball bounced up and out and Benteke was swift enough to nod the rebound into the net.
Arsenal had the better of the half, with Theo Walcott creating two excellent chances but to no avail.
They had the better of the first 15 minutes after the break as well, with Tomas Rosicky smashing an easy shot over the bar, but again, they failed to take advantage. And then it all went horribly wrong.
Laurent Koscielny appeared to have denied the lightning-footed Gabriel Agbonlahor with a smart tackle in the box, but referee Taylor thought otherwise.
He booked Koscielny, gave the penalty and this time Benteke made no mistake.
Arsenal went to pieces, they lost their shape and they lost their grip.
Just six minutes later, Koscielny was striding down the tunnel in a fury after a second yellow card ended his afternoon.
With four minutes to go, Antonio Luna added a final insult. In the stands, there was open dissent.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” roared the fans at their manager.
“Spend some f****** money!”
A big-money signing wouldn’t have changed Taylor’s mind about the penalty and it wouldn’t have prevented the red card, but perhaps it would have changed the mood beforehand.
Perhaps a striker of Gonzalo Higuain’s quality would have made better use of those first-half opportunities.
Perhaps it’s time, finally, to go shopping.
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