Mikel Arteta insisted he must bear total responsibility for Arsenal’s display in their 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday, one that lacked the “spirit” that he has tried to instill at the club since his appointment.

Arsenal were torn apart by an exceptional Villa side at the Emirates Stadium. Denied an early goal when Ross Barkley was adjudged to have blocked Bernd Leno’s eyeline as John McGinn struck into the top corner, the visitors responded in exceptional fashion with a display of clinical counter-attacking and creativity led by Ross Barkley and Jack Grealish.

Pressure from Trezeguet forced Bukayo Saka to turn into his own net for the game’s opener before Ollie Watkins struck twice in the space of three second-half minutes to inflict on Arsenal their worst home defeat under Arteta.

“I don’t feel like we were the team we’re supposed to be, we performed below our standards, our ability and I didn’t see the spirit for the first time that I have seen every day in training and every day when we compete,” Arteta said. “This is totally my fault, it is why I am here, I am responsible for that, to make sure the team performs and competes at the highest level every three days. Today I haven’t done that, so obviously it is my fault. 

“It is very tough to find the reasons. I cannot say that I have seen a change or this week they train a different way. I would be lying if I said that. Obviously there was something there that [Villa] wanted much more than us and they showed it.

“We need to be more ruthless… Today wasn’t about that, it was about how we went about the job and who we were as a team and what we were transmitting as a team. I didn’t like it from the first whistle, the way we conceded and still got away from the goal with the VAR and afterwards. It’s just not good enough.” 

Ollie Watkins celebrates his goal for Aston Villa in a 3-0 win over Arsenal
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For all that Arteta saw his side’s problems in defeat as being mental, there are more technical and tactical issues plaguing Arsenal eight games into the Premier League season. Only Wolverhampton Wanderers and the division’s bottom three teams have scored fewer than his side’s nine goals.

Perhaps crucial to that has been the limited service afforded to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who did not manage a shot on goal against Villa. He now has shot just 10 times in eight Premier League games this season, fewer than team-mate Bukayo Saka, Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma and Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Stationed wide on the left he has created as many chances for others as he has attempted shots for himself. Playing Aubameyang wide on the left allows Arteta to get Alexandre Lacazette into the side but that hardly seems like a boost for Arsenal when the forward is so off form. He missed his side’s best chance of the game, failing to direct Kieran Tierney’s cross on target from close range, whilst his fellow forward Willian was similarly indifferent.

The clamor to move Aubameyang into a central position, and indeed to reassess the system as a whole with Arsenal struggling for goals, will only grow after this defeat and Arteta did indicate that it would be something he will consider. 

Here’s Arteta’s response when asked by CBS Sports whether he would reassess his system: “Yes, for sure. We do that every week, you know, [look at] how we can get into better positions in the final third, with certain numbers in the positions that have to be occupied all the time. The same for how we control the transition moments after not finishing that action when the ball leaves that box.

“Certainly, as you said, we will look at that again and try to modify certain things to try and get better like we always do.”

For all that such a heavy defeat will prompt an inquest into Arteta’s approach that should not diminish the praise for Aston Villa, who moved up to sixth with another impressive victory over a “Big Six” opponent. Though the scoreline was not as flattering as their 7-2 win over Liverpool earlier this season head coach Dean Smith insisted his side’s display “was up there with [that game] if not better.”

“We just looked so composed and played with such intensity with and without the ball today,” Smith said. “I thought we were a threat whenever we went forward and worked extremely hard to playing round us rather than through us.

“Trezeguet, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins: they’re a threat against anybody in this league. If you can be as hard-working, solid and organized as we were tonight then you’ve got chances of getting great wins like we got tonight.” 


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