Dave Woodhall on Villa and dangerous fashions.
Liverpool – check. Manchester City – check. Manchester United – check. Arsenal – check. That just leaves Chelsea to come then we might, with a bit of luck, see an end for this season to the most annoying ‘fashion’ trend to hit Villa Park, or indeed any other Premier League ground, for a long time – the half and half scarf. I’m all for making football a more inclusive experience but should we really be encouraging people who can’t, even with only two to choose from, remember which team they support?
Villa were defending their Premier League championship against Arsenal, or they would have been if the title was a boxing-style defend against all comers challenge. Apparently, and I’m not sad enough to check it, working from Manchester United winning the first Premier League in 1993 you ended up with Sunderland, who Villa beat on New Year’s Day. That made us champions and Arsenal our challengers on Monday night.
I may as well continue with the boxing analogy and say that had that been the sport the contest would have been stopped well before before half-time with Villa two down courtesy of a couple of defensive mistakes. Nathan Baker had already been knocked out after suffering a head injury that led to over eight minutes of stoppages, not that Villa showed any sign of using the additional time to their advantage.
It had been a typically lacklustre home performance and the second half started off much the same, but after twenty minutes or so the team suddenly started to perform with some urgency. This coincided with the arrival of Andreas Weimann and a revertion to the 4-3-3 formation that led us to safety last season. Christian Benteke, who had already looked more menacing than at any time since his run of injuries began, scored from an immaculate Matt Lowton cross and Villa, incredibly, were playing football. Unfortunately they couldn’t conjure up an equaliser but Arsenal were a lot more relieved to hear the final whistle than had seemed likely half an hour earlier. The final whistle was met with applause for the first time in weeks, showing that Villa supporters don’t expect miracles; give us some hope of better things to come and we’ll appreciate the effort.
I’m not going to cheer another home defeat but I will, and did, applaud the team for at least making a fist of the game in the end. We didn’t get the hammering that many predicted and which looked on the cards at half-time. In fact, we can take some positives from the evening, not least Benteke’s overdue goal. Most importantly, Paul Lambert might have realised that when you attack the opposition you have a better chance of scoring than if your approach work consists of three sideways balls and a pass back to the keeper. If this seemingly obvious tactic had been at work for the previous 3½ home games we might be six points better off and still in the FA Cup.
One thing that didn’t change was Villa’s lack of possession. Almost halfway through the transfer window and there’s still no sign of a midfielder who can put his foot on the ball before doing something positive with it. There is, though, an ominous, as yet unconfirmed, sighting of Grant Holt. I shall treat this in the same manner as a photo of a UFO or the Loch Ness monster – it can’t be explained by science or logic therefore it doesn’t exist.