English Premiership

Woeful Gunners shoot blanks

2013-08-17 21:08
Arsene Wenger (File)
London - Christian Benteke scored twice as Arsenal's Premier League ambitions suffered an opening day setback with a 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa on Saturday.

The result threw into sharp focus the failure of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to strengthen his side in pre-season.

Olivier Giroud put the home side ahead in the sixth minute but Arsenal's promising start at the Emirates Stadium was quickly forgotten as Villa's Benteke scored twice before Antonio Luna wrapped up the win for the visitors.

A dismal afternoon for Arsenal was made worse by the 66th minute dismissal of Laurent Koscielny and Wenger was left in no doubt about the frustrations of Gunners fans, who responded with a chant urging the French manager to spend money on bringing new players to the north London club.

Wenger has so far failed to attract any big name signings after failing to land primary targets Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney.

And the team-sheet provided an eloquent reminder of the lack of new faces with the Gunners' starting XI mirroring exactly the team that finished last season at Newcastle.

Wenger insisted ahead of this game he remained hopeful of strengthening his squad before adding the familiar caveat that he would only buy if the right player became available at the right price.

After this clash, Wenger may consider it time to re-evaluate his stance.

There was nothing wrong with the start Arsenal made with Giroud rounding off an excellent breakaway to put the Gunners 1-0 up.

The move was started deep in the home half when Jack Wilshere moved the ball quicky forward to Tomas Rosicky.

A smart turn and pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain allowed the England midfielder to speed past Villa right back Matthew Lowton and advance before delivering a low cross towards the near post where Giroud finished easily after cleverly losing his marker.

While Wenger's main transfer targets have been forwards, Arsenal's main weakness appeared to lie at the other end of the pitch where goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and the back four once again appeared unconvincing.

Villa's response to falling a goal behind was impressive and showed they are likely to be a much more resilient outfit than the one that flirted precariously with relegation last season.

The pace and strength of front three Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann posed a constant threat while midfielders Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi showed impressive energy.

But the visitors were given encouragement by Arsenal's fragile rearguard and they were eventually handed a route back into the game when Agbonlahor was able to drive through the heart of the defence and into the area.

Szczesny raced out, arriving late at the feet of the Villa man and was fortunate to escape a red card when Agbonlahor was sent tumbling.

The keeper almost made amends when he saved Benteke's spot-kick but the Poland international was unable to prevent the striker heading home the rebound.

Arsenal lost Kieran Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain to first half injuries but worse was to come after the restart.

Rosicky missed an early opportunity for the home side but the Arsenal defence again proved vulnerable, first when Delph struck the post from 20 yards and then when Agbonloahor's direct running won a second penalty.

Television replays suggested Koscielny got the ball before connecting with Agbonlahor but the referee thought otherwise, booking the French centre back and allowing Benteke to score his second goal in the 66th minute.

And six minutes later, Koscielny's frustration saw him make a clumsy challenge on Benteke to earn a second yellow card.

Villa made it three five minutes from time when Luna broke from halfway as Arsenal pressed.


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