LONDON • Mikel Arteta admitted that Arsenal were unrecognisable from the side who have made plenty of progress in his first year in charge, as Aston Villa stormed to a comprehensive 3-0 Premier League win at the Emirates on Sunday.
Bukayo Saka’s own goal and a double from Ollie Watkins took the visitors up to sixth place, just three points off leaders Leicester with a game in hand.
Arsenal had beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in 14 years the previous weekend, in what appeared to be the latest sign that the Gunners are heading in the right direction under Arteta.
But the Spaniard suffered the joint-heaviest defeat of his managerial career in a chastening evening for the hosts, who were second best from start to finish.
A second consecutive home defeat and their fourth overall this season saw Arsenal slip to 11th, four points off the top four, their major target this season in the hope of ending a four-year exile from the Champions League.
“We performed below our standards and I have to say it’s the first time I’ve seen us play and we weren’t a team,” said Arteta. “We lost all the races, the duels and we were sloppy on the ball.
“It is a frustration. It takes a lot to build momentum, to build a way of being, living and performing and when something like that comes up, it’s a hard one to take.
“I’d like to have a game tomorrow to get this one out of the system. But in difficult and bad moments, you get a lot of things.
“I want to see how people react, how players react and if we start to blame each other or if we just look at ourselves in the mirror and then try to become much better than what we’ve shown tonight, which we are.
“Then, after that, get everybody back together and get the fighting spirit, the belief and the commitment that we’ve shown since I got here, into every game.”
It’s the first time I’ve seen us play and we weren’t a team. We lost all the races, the duels and we were sloppy on the ball.
But Arsenal great Ian Wright gave short shrift to Arteta’s insistence that the team had the character to bounce back after the international break.
“It was poor in every department. They need to break the lines, they need space to hit the ball into, they were dithering on the ball,” the pundit, who also called the display “one of the worst” he had seen, told the BBC.
“It was a million miles away from the performance against Manchester United (which they won 1-0). They were streets ahead of us today.”
Villa had lost their last two matches, conceding seven goals in the process, after a stunning start to the season that included a 7-2 rout of Liverpool a month ago.
But Dean Smith’s side did not look like a team lacking confidence as the Gunners could not handle the movement of Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley and Watkins.
Had the video assistant referee not intervened, the Villans would have taken the lead inside the first minute through John McGinn.
Arteta’s men failed to heed the early warning and they fell apart after Thomas Partey went off at half-time with a thigh injury.
Villa only escaped relegation on the final day of last season. But having made a number of shrewd buys in the summer, including Watkins and Emiliano Martinez – who was excellent against his former club – they want to push for a European spot this term.
“We’re a threat with them in the team. They’re all blossoming really well but there’s more to come from them,” said manager Smith.
Watkins added: “As an Arsenal fan, to score here at the Emirates is unbelievable. You’ve seen tonight and against Liverpool, we’re a great side and we can beat anyone.”
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS