Dave Woodhall tries out a new pun to describe Villa’s win at Arsenal.
Excuse me while I repeat something I wrote last season. Playing Arsenal at the Emirates will always remind me of the first time Villa played there, on the ground’s opening day. Both clubs were at the dawn of a new era, and neither subsequently did as well as they should have. With the amount of talent at their disposal and the highest matchday income in the world Arsenal should have challenged regularly for the title and Champions League. With a billionaire bankrolling them back in those halcyon days when an ordinary billionaire was all you need, Villa should have got in to the top four at least once. And please let’s not go down the well-travelled road of why they didn’t and whose fault it was. Life’s too short for that particular epic to be performed in its entirety yet again.
Villa almost won that opening game, which was appropriate as they almost went on to become successful. Fast forward seven years and despite Arsenal being in the Champions League qualifiers once more and Villa coming off the back of a catastrophe of a last season, it was us who went into Saturday’s game the more confident.
And so it was to prove. Despite the almost inevitable setbacks of an early goal conceded and Nathan Baker injured, Villa went on to give what was described by pundits as a masterclass in counter-attacking. Gabby Agbonlahor was fouled in the area twice for Christian Benteke to hit two penalties home, even if the first was initially saved. Villa could have scored more, but waited until five minutes from time when a corner was successfully defended (itself a rarity last season) and on the counter left-back Tony Luna made the game certain. The very fact that the team’s first instinct when they had the opportunity was to attack rather than hang on tells you everything you need to know about Paul Lambert’s philosophy for the season. Not every performance will be this good, nor every result as satisfying, but Villa will be aiming to score more than the opposition instead of trying to concede less.
It would be daft to think Villa could finish above Arsenal. A club that can pull in over sixty thousand at the most expensive ticket prices in the country have the sort of resources Villa can only dream about. Arsenal could react to this defeat by spending £50 million tomorrow; Paul Lambert hasn’t spent anywhere near that in three transfer windows. Villa are continuing the policy of unearthing stars of the future that they began last summer. Ironically, the best manager at this over recent years has, of course, been Arsene Wenger and for all the criticism he gets now, Arsenal have achieved a lot more with him than they could have dreamed possible when he arrived at the club. If Lambert can be equally as successful he’ll have done a good job.
And so on to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. When the Premier League fixed the date for this, reaching a compromise by giving Chelsea what they’d asked for, anything short of two heavy defeats to start the season would have been borderline acceptable. Now, while I still can’t see Villa getting anything from the game (I only say that not wishing to tempt fate, you understand) we’ll go into the first home match of the season against Liverpool with three points and maybe even a positive goal difference.
A good performance on TV against a side who we rarely seem to get going against at Villa Park will boost confidence levels even higher and show the watching millions what we know already. Something’s stirring at Villa Park. Another new era is dawning.