Arsenal 1-3: Two Arms and One Leg Tied Behind Our Backs

This is going to be short, because frankly by this point you've certainly already ready several match reports and the resulting news coverage. I did want to eventually get this written though because there is just as much to talk about outside of the match as there was during it.

How different things looked in the 6th minute though, with Brad Guzan picking the ball out of his net in the face of a vintage Arsenal counter-attack. The speed with which it was played up to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who in turn played it in to the path of a surging Olivier Giroud run was breathtaking. Giroud, for his part, still had the hard work to do and timed his run in between the Villa center-halves perfectly. The cameras caught Guzan bollicking his defenders, but I'm not sure there was much that any team could have done to stop that play - it was perfectly timed and executed.

It would be slightly unfair to chalk up the rest of the afternoon on us switching off - on the balance of it most of the Arsenal players were not that bad on the day, and you also have to credit Villa for a determined rearguard performance.

Then, there was the referee, Anthony Taylor. It's unfortunate that he was so astonishingly incompetent on the day, because it is too easy to blame him for what unfolded (more on that in a second). But, my god, the second penalty and Laurent Koscielny's second yellow were crucial moments that he got unbelievably wrong. Beyond that, his application of the advantage rule was wildly inconsistent, and he let Villa kick us up in the air repeatedly with the same kind of fouls that got us shiny pieces of colorful cardboard.

I would literally pay $100 to see the referee assessor's match report after that horror show. It would be instructive to see just how far the rot has set in, to see how guys like Taylor and Phil Dowd and Mike Dean keep getting games at the highest level.

That aside, the real root cause of this defeat can be seen in the emaciated state of our squad. While I have largely reached the resignation/acceptance stage of our decline as a club, the one thing that still makes me want to put my fist through a wall is when the manager goes on about how hard it is to find players better than what he has.

I lamented on a message forum yesterday that the art of the follow-up question seems to be dead in journalism, cowardly abandoned to ensure continued access. Just once, when Arsene says how hard it is to find "super super top quality", I'd love to see a journo start yelling out names - Higuain! Bender! Gustavo! All are players who would moonwalk into the first team. Or, perhaps a follow-up question asking why that is relevant when there is so little squad depth on his team, one which has a long history of injury problems and several players with a penchant for red cards?

There is a kernel of a point in the manager's assertion that the first XI-plus-a-bit is indeed a strong one. We have had the core of a title contender for years, though the last few years have been a clinical study in how a core alone is not sufficient.

I simply do not understand how a sane, reasonable person can look at a scenario where we finish a game with Lukas Podolski at LB, Aaron Ramsey at CB and Santi Cazorla on the field practically just off a plane from Ecuador and not see that something is horrifically amiss. Pick that team in Football Manager and even Colchester United would have a decent chance of turning you over.

Beyond that, even before the injuries, this team had few ready-made replacements to account for poor individual performances in a given game. Theo Walcott in particular was appalling, a total apparition in the kind of game where we need him the most. Some will say that Tomas Rosicky did well given one brilliant slalom through the Villa defense, but over the 90 minutes he was putrid as well (and frankly, you HAVE to score at the end of that run - Guzan did well to save, but a top player buries that...and I say that as someone who loves the hell out of Tommy).

Koscielny was worse than them put together, though. He's always been a feast-or-famine player for us, and this was one of the poorest showings he's given us. He impersonated a turnstile to let the Villa player through for what became the first penalty, and while the red card was bullshit he still should have been far more careful knowing that Mr. Magoo was gagging to send off one of ours. I will say he was unlucky on the second penalty though. He clearly got the ball with a brilliant tackle, but Taylor's poor positioning made it look like a foul.

One guy who does not remotely deserve the stick he's gotten in the last 24 hours is Wojciech Szczesny. He arguably was a second late off his line for the first, but again you don't expect a class defender like Koscielny to shepherd the player in like a bullfighter executing a flawless Veronica. He saved the resulting penalty, and 9 times out of 10 that goes out the side to safety - for it to loop right back to Christian Benteke was ridiculously bad luck. The second was another penalty kick, the third was a 1-v-1 for half the length of the field.

Please, enlighten me: What was Szczesny supposed to do on any of those, again? Not every 3 or 4-goal conceded performance has anything to do with the evidenced by the guy you're all clamoring to buy shipping four goals to the USA in midweek. You know, just saying.

And honestly, don't point to his ramble outside the area as evidence that he is Massimo Taibbi's less-talented cousin. Goalkeeping Psychology 101: A guy like him who is desperate to win and fighting for his first-team place will at times take the law into his own hands if the guys in front of him are continually failing to protect him adequately. It's a red mist sort of thing - I know, it's happened to me before. And, at the end of the day, he kept it out on that play...what more can you ask for?

The brutal truth is this: Arsene Wenger and Arsene Wenger alone is responsible for this defeat. He is responsible for the extreme likelihood that an excellent Fenerbahce side gives us a good thrashing in midweek, sending us crashing out of the Champions League. He is responsible for creating a squad where two or three injuries will have us sending children out to bear a responsibility that is absurdly unfair for them to shoulder. He is responsible for overseeing the decline of everything he worked so hard to build up. He is the one who is turning us into Liverpool v 2.0, a path I warned that we were on years ago.

I co-sign everything Arseblogger said this morning - he has given us the best football and the best times of our Arsenal lives, and I really and truly do not want to hate him.

That's where I am today, though. In truth, that's where I've been for a while.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7 - Didn't do much wrong, if you're being fair about it.

Gibbs 7 - Was fine until the injury.

(Jenkinson 7) - The least of our problems, did admirably in emergency relief duty.

Koscielny 4 - At fault for the first two goals, needlessly got sent off as well. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...

Mertesacker 6 - He wasn't helped by his partner's poor performance, but I felt he could have done more as well.

Sagna 6 - Recovered from a brutal first half (giveaways and poor crosses everywhere, terrible positioning and got burned several times by their wingers) to give us a decent second period. We can only hope he's OK after that horrific All Japan Pro Wrestling-style landing.

Ramsey 7 - Filled in all over the pitch due to injuries and our ludicrous lack of depth. Did what he could.

Wilshere 6 - Never really made his mark on proceedings. He was kicked out of the game as per usual, but he's got to step it up more in times like this.

Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 - Fantastic assist in likely his only appearance for the club this season - there is talk that he's done his cruciate ligament. Gutted for the kid, he was poised to break out this year.

(Cazorla 5) - It's an unfair rating in some respects given that he never should have been asked to play. However, an objective assessment of what he did do out on the pitch is such that I have to give it.

Rosicky 5 - Not everyone will agree, but one nice run does not a good performance make. He blew an easy chance for the equalizer, and beyond that his passing was atrocious. I think he may be more useful to us as an impact sub, but squad depth etc and so on.

Walcott 5 - Went missing. End of.

Giroud 7 - Did wonderfully well to score the goal, but his hold-up play was shocking at times. Too many attacking moves died because he failed to trap a simple ball.

Man of the Match:  Christian Benteke  (This is a change for this year, folks. An Arsenal player only gets the MOTM if we deserve to have one now.)