There was plenty of encouragement for Aston Villa after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal, who continue to struggle for consistency
Last Updated: November 24, 2012 9:34pm
Aston Villa's 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal means Paul Lambert's side have now won just one of their last nine games in the Premier League.
However, with the result lifting Villa out of the relegation zone, there was plenty to encourage Lambert for the weeks ahead, especially following a testing run of games so far this month.
For Arsenal, the stalemate leaves them 10 points behind leaders Manchester United and it was a performance that lacked any real fluidity or threat.
Paul Lambert, who was watching from the stands due to a touchline ban, made just one change from the Aston Villa team which lost 5-0 at Manchester City a week ago. Karim El Ahmadi replaced Stephen Ireland in midfield, while Eric Lichaj took a place on the substitutes' bench at the expense of Nathan Baker.
Arsenal made four changes from their last Premier League game - the 5-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur a week ago. Two of those changes were in defence as Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs replaced Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen at full-back. With one eye on Wednesday's trip to Everton, Arsene Wenger rested Jack Wilshere and his place in midfield was taken by Aaron Ramsey. On the wing, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Theo Walcott.
Both teams deployed similar formations along the 4-5-1/4-3-3 lines. Villa had Christian Benteke spearheading the attack, with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann offering support from wide, while Barry Bannan and El Ahmadi joined in from midfield.
Though Arsenal made a few changes in personnel, there was no alteration to the system that Wenger prefers, with Olivier Giroud continuing his adjustment to the demands of the Premier League as the focal point of the attack.
Villa were pressed into a change early in the second half when Ron Vlaar went off injured to be replaced by Lichaj. That saw Lichaj drop in at right-back with Matt Lowton shifting across to the centre and the summer signing performed a solid job. Brett Holman replaced El Ahmadi just past the hour mark and the Australian came closest to scoring when he struck the crossbar. Marc Albrighton was a last-minute introduction for Weimann.
Gervinho was brought on with 20 minutes left for his first Premier League appearance in nearly a month and he replaced Lukas Podolski, who has yet to finish a league match. Andrey Arshavin was a 77th minute replacement for Oxlade-Chamberlain and saw a dangerous late cross cleared away by Ciaran Clark. Francis Coquelin, meanwhile, came on for Giroud with five minutes to go and wasted a good crossing opportunity right at the death.
Lee Mason had a couple of big decisions to make in the first half. He used common sense by not booking Wojciech Szczesny after the Arsenal goalkeeper had accidentally handled the ball outside the penalty area. Mason was also spot on in not awarding a penalty after an excellent tackle by Per Mertesacker on Gabriel Agbonlahor in the box.
Villa had plenty of players who put in a solid 7 out of 10 performance but Barry Bannan was the one who caught my eye. He tried to link midfield and attack cleverly, and was always on the look-out for a pass to open up Arsenal's defence. His intelligent short free-kick after Szczesny's handball almost brought a goal, but Weimann was correctly ruled offside after Ciaran Clark's shot had been deflected.
Germany international Mertesacker has recently been talking about how it took him time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League and you can see he is now much more comfortable with playing in England. He produced an excellent last-ditch tackle on Agbonlahor and stood out in an otherwise average Arsenal performance.
Though a testing run of fixtures against Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal has only brought Villa one point, Lambert's side could easily have picked up something from all three games. With Reading at home on Tuesday, and with Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City following on from that game, there is now an opportunity for Villa to claim the points that their recent displays have merited.
Arsenal continue to struggle to put a consistent run of performances together and they were value for no more than a draw at Villa Park. Another testing away date awaits on Wednesday at Everton, but that is followed by a run of seven games to the turn of the year when Wenger will demand maximum points from his team.