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Arsenal 0 - Aston Villa 1: one of those days

The Gunners dominated the match but had nothing to show for it.

Aston Villa v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

It was a frustrating day at the office for Arsenal, who fell 1-0 to a surprisingly unimpressive Aston Villa side. The Gunners controlled the match but were wasteful with their chances, which came back to bite them. The loss leaves Arsenal in second, one point behind Liverpool and one ahead of Aston Villa.

Arsenal made mistakes on one defensive sequence all match and were brutally punished for it. Early in the game, both Kai Havertz and Oleksandr Zinchenko stepped up aggressively at midfield but ineffectively. They were passed through with ease. The blame falls more heavily on Zinchenko, who as a fullback needs to recognize the danger out wide / in behind.

Gabriel Magalhaes didn’t cover himself in glory defending Leon Bailey on the cross — he was slow to recognize that he had help coming in the form of Declan Rice and probably could have cut out the pass. Ben White lost John McGinn and the ball was in the back of the Arsenal net. Credit to Aston Villa, too. It was a nice passing sequence that Arsenal aided with poor defending.

From that point on, the Gunners completely controlled the game. They consistently turned Aston Villa over deep but were unable to make much of it, not really forcing Emi Martinez into making any particularly difficult saves. Martin Ødegaard was particularly wasteful, squandering gilt-edged chances in both halves. Gabriel Martinelli had an off night as well. He was able to get beyond his man, but his service left something to be desired. Declan Rice had one of his weaker games for the club.

Kai Havertz was excellent. He seems to have hit his stride and be gelling with his teammates. The goal contributions will continue to come.

If Arsenal generate better chances off the turnovers and / or put away any of the ones they did generate, we don’t have to have the conversation we’re about to. They needed to be sharper and more clinical. They weren’t. And so here we are.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Arsenal were on the wrong end of two big refereeing decisions that would have changed the result had either gone their way. Gabriel Jesus was denied a penalty. The Gunners had a very late goal ruled out for handball.

The Gabriel Jesus one is hard to stomach. He touches the ball by his defender and gets kicked in the back of the leg for his trouble. Even if the kick wasn’t the hardest, which doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter anyway, the defender hooking Jesus’ leg prevents him from continuing his stride. It’s a foul. It should have been a penalty to Arsenal. It’s particularly aggravating to not get that call when Jean-Philippe Mateta was given a penalty on a similar incident earlier in the day.

We also had another incident of an opponent not using their elbow as a weapon to deliver a blow to the head of an Arsenal player. Off the ball, Eddie Nketiah tried to make a run beyond Diego Carlos. The Villa defender swung his arm wildly to block the run and caught Nketiah in the head with his elbow / forearm. Even Lee Dixon, who was particularly anti-Arsenal today, said “he might be in trouble” when he saw the replay. Carlos only saw yellow.

They may have gotten the call correct in ruling out the Arsenal goal. If Kai Havertz was the Arsenal player who touched the ball into the net, the goal cannot stand. A handball, even accidental, by the player scoring is an automatic reversal. The ball hit Kai Havertz’s hand / arm, perhaps multiple times. If Eddie Nketiah got the final touch, however, the goal should have stood. I still cannot definitively say which of the two players got the final touch.

The goal coming off the board also demonstrates the ridiculous state the handball Law is in. Before falling to Havertz, the ball comes of Matty Cash’s raised arm. It was also an accidental touch. Why have we decided that only the scoring attacker’s accidental touch matters? It is a completely arbitrary and illogical interpretation. On rewatch, it actually looks as if the ball hits Cash’s wrist a second time, later in the sequence. The ball is bouncing around, ricocheting off bodies and arms, yet the powers that be have determined that it only matters whether it hits one arm in particular.

Another component that I frankly do not know the answer to: the recent update to the handball Law states a goal shall be ruled out if scored by a player “immediately after the ball has touched their hand/arm, even if accidental.” What does immediately mean? Does an intervening touch by a defender, like there was off Matty Cash in this instance, matter? I’m not aware of any guidance to referees with respect to that.

That was an aggravating result. Arsenal did more than enough to draw. On another day, they probably get all three points, too. Instead, the Gunners come away with nothing. Aston Villa weren’t good. Arsenal weren’t great but were clearly the better of the two sides. And pivotal decisions continue to go against the Gunners. Such is life in the Premier League.