Arsenal must learn title race lesson as Martin Odegaard issue answers Aston Villa misconceptions

Martin Odegaard holds the answer to Arsenal's Aston Villa demise after misconceptions realised in Gunners defeat
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 14: Diego Carlos of Aston Villa apologises after clash with Martin Odegaard of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on April 14, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) -Credit:Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

A tale of two halves for sure, but not without its warnings. Arsenal were deservedly beaten by Aston Villa but it could have easily been very different had the first-half dominance been turned into goals.

The Gunners had their chances with Gabriel Jesus, Leandro Trossard and Bukayo Saka all going close but Ollie Watkins and Youri Tielemans both hit the woodwork prior to the two goals which would leave the Gunners' title hopes hanging by a thread. The question marks surrounding the second-half performance however need answers and there are reasons for how things changed so dramatically.

The key points that are remembered from the second period are the Tielemans shot which hit both bar and post and the two Villa goals. However, the start of the second period which has been forgotten saw Gabriel Jesus look to win a penalty from Diego Carlos.

The Brazilian seemingly brought down his compatriot but there was not enough in it to give the Gunners what they were looking for. Martin Odegaard then had a chance from a free-kick to take a shot after John McGinn committed a foul on the edge of the box.

The Tielemans effort was sandwiched between two others from Arsenal, however. The first was an Arsenal corner seeing the ball fall to Rice on the edge of the box who took an uncharacteristically wild swing at it and a great opportunity which Jesus saw pushed wide by Emi Martinez.

However, the match, for me, changed when Martin Odegaard was taken out of the game, not by the substitution but by the kick to the chest from Watkins. He wouldn’t come off for another 10-plus minutes during which neither team created much but the impact of the Norwegian’s issue was definitely affecting Arsenal.

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In fact, in the matchday blog, I was writing "the signs are positive" in the 70th minute. It wouldn’t be until the 84th minute, five minutes after Odegaard went off, that Leon Bailey broke the deadlock.

This reflection has certainly made me look back on not just the second half but the game differently. I was questioning come full-time what an Earth had happened in the second period but in fact, it was the final 10 minutes of normal time that proved the difference.

Mikel Arteta brought on Emile Smith Rowe for Odegaard instead of who at least I assume to be a more characteristically similar player in Fabio Vieira. He offered little, as did Takehiro Tomiyasu who replaced Ben White (for me the wrong full-back to have been substituted at the time).

Arsenal were out of shape when the corner they had initially defended came back and Oleksandr Zinchenko was isolated on the right of the Arsenal box instead of the left, opening a huge gap for Bailey to sneak behind Rice unnoticed to slot in when no one could clear the low cross and Kai Havertz failed to stop it at source.

It wasn't until this goal that Arteta finally decided to bring Zinchenko off. However before he could, the game was killed off as Zinchenko high up the pitch passed to Jorginho who cheaply gave away the ball and then Watkins was away, clear and brilliant in his finish.

It was a goal which provided flashbacks to Leroy Sane's runs for Bayern Munich which need to be addressed for Wednesday. Arsenal head to Munich aiming to beat the former German champions but cannot make such mistakes again otherwise it will be catastrophic.

Zinchenko cannot start and Jakub Kiwior's Sane nightmare means surely Tomiyasu comes into the left-back position. Returning to the Villa game, however, it was indeed not a second-half disaster but a final-10 mess.

This makes it no less anger-invoking and entirely gutting to see the side drop points but what it does perhaps provide is context and comparison. I remember watching this side throw away games last season like with the 3-3 draw at home to Southampton.

Away at West Ham United when we drew 2-2 a West Ham win looked more likely than an Arsenal one. The Brighton home game and the Nottingham Forest away game were utterly dire.

So when I see claims that, 'Arsenal have thrown it away again' or 'it's last season 2.0', I simply don't see the parallels. There is no Deja Vu for me, not to mention the club remain two points off the top and with a chance to go to the Champions League semi-finals.

What I don't want, however, is for them to suddenly let this slip-up define the next six league games and however many remain in Europe. If this is the game that ends up costing us the title because both us and Man City win the rest of our games, so be it.

But if we do throw it away here and underperform in the remaining games it will be a very bitter pill to swallow indeed. Arsenal, over to you.