It was a wet, blustery, bitterly cold evening in the West Midlands, but the misery for Arsène Wenger extended well beyond the weather. Towards the end of a game that did little to warm the hearts of those who had braved the elements, the Arsenal manager withdrew Olivier Giroud, replaced him with Francis Coquelin and then was subjected to a chorus of boos and chants of "You don't know what you're doing" from the travelling supporters.
It was a chastening moment for Wenger, and although there were moments of humour when the subject was brought up in his press conference, at other times the Frenchman seemed rattled. He defended his decision to leave Jack Wilshere on the bench throughout – Arsenal fans sang the England midfielder's name at one point in the second half – and made it clear that he felt a manager with his experience should not have to explain his substitutions.
"I don't comment anything about that," Wenger said, when quizzed about the stick he received from the Arsenal fans. "I do my job and I give my best for the team and for the club and I let you [the media] judge. Intelligence seems to go a bit more here than anywhere else and I try to be as good as I can be."
Asked whether the chants hurt, Wenger said: "No. Look, I have managed for 30 years at the top level, if I have to convince you [a reporter] that I can manage a team, it would be an insult to you. You can discuss every substitution. I do my job and I let you and other people judge it. And I do that every game and give my best every day and before I make decisions I know why I do them. I will not explain every decision I make."
Wenger did, however, say that he wanted to give Wilshere "a breather" and explained that he thought it was "more dangerous in weather like that to bring a player on when he's tired". Wilshere, in truth, must have been grateful to give this one a miss. With surface water spraying up on the pitch, rain hammering down from start to finish and the wind blowing a gale, the conditions were never going to be conducive to free-flowing football.
From Aston Villa's point of view, there was at least some comfort to be taken from the fact that this draw lifted them out of the relegation zone at the expense of Reading, who arrive at Villa Park on Tuesday in what feels like a huge game for both clubs. Villa played with plenty of passion, worked hard to stop Arsenal from playing and came close to grabbing a winner when Wojciech Szczesny tipped a rasping shot from the substitute Brett Holman on to the crossbar in the 78th minute.
For the most part, though, they lacked a cutting edge and although Christian Benteke caused Arsenal problems, this was a game crying out for the introduction of Darren Bent as the clock ticked down. Lambert, however, did not even name Bent among the substitutes, preferring to pick Jordan Bowery, a 21-year-old striker signed from Chesterfield, ahead of a player that has scored 102 Premier League goals. "It's my choice," said Lambert, who praised his players' effort. "That's the squad I thought could win us the game. I've got 25 to 26 guys to think about – the most important thing is this football club."
Villa had a goal disallowed in the first half, when Andreas Weimann was ruled offside, and they also had appeals for a penalty turned down after Gabriel Agbonlahor tumbled under a challenge from Per Mertesacker, but the officials got both decisions spot-on. Villa continued to probe in the second half without ever looking really menacing, until Holman injected some fresh life into proceedings, setting up a chance for Agbonlahor before striking the woodwork.
As for Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey saw his close-range effort saved by Brad Guzan and Santi Cazorla thrashed narrowly wide. But the best chance fell to Laurent Koscielny, who scooped Giroud's centre over the bar from no more than eight yards. It was that sort of day for Arsenal.
"We lacked a little bit of sharpness in the final third," Wenger said. "I think physically we were a bit jaded."