Dave Woodhall on Villa’s illness-affected defeat to Arsenal.
It was back to reality for Villa on Saturday. Not only did the team lose to Arsenal, who we haven’t beaten at Villa Park this century despite having a decent record at the Emirates, but there was also a string of absences to contend with.
Football seems to be going the way of American sport with its pointless stats-obsession, so I’m sure there’s a table somewhere listing which clubs have had the most injuries over the past five seasons. I would be surprised if Villa weren’t runaway leaders.
Villa were already in trouble with three players out, and another three withdrawals in the hours (and in one case minutes) leading up to kick-off due to a virus meant the game was half-lost before it started.
To their credit the team began well, and possibly shaded the first half hour, but three goals in as many minutes put the result beyond doubt. The second half was a non-event; Andreas Weimann had to be substituted as the virus claimed its fourth victim and a few others were clearly suffering as the game wound down. There was some criticism of Paul Lambert for not taking a risk and going for broke, but in all likelihood Villa would have got nothing more out of the game than an even heavier defeat – the spectre of those eight goals at Stamford Bridge in 2012 still looms large in the collective Astonian psyche.
We can’t make too many excuses because there’s every chance that Arsenal would have beaten even a full-strength Villa side. They’re a better team than we are, and if they were anywhere near their best they would have won regardless of who we had playing. What might have happened in different circumstances is open to debate; Arsenal weren’t particularly good on Saturday but they didn’t have to be. Maybe that elusive full-strength side could have got something from the game but we’ll never know.
Equally, there seems little point in criticising any individual performance, because you don’t know how the player in question was affected. If four were unfit to play there’s every likelihood that others had to battle on through lesser degrees of illness. Carlos Sanchez, for example, was thrown into the game at a few minutes notice and in an unfamiliar role.
And that’s the first defeat of the season. The good run was always going to end sooner rather than later, and I doubt there’s a Villa supporter who wouldn’t have been delighted with ten points from the first five games. The prevailing circumstances can excuse Saturday but from now on there’s a clean slate and every player has to show that the opening month of the season wasn’t a fluke.
Talking of every player, does anyone have any idea why Jores Okore was fit enough to play in two games within five days for Denmark and then kept out of Saturday’s team by Ciaran Clark? Answers to Paul Lambert, Isolation Ward, Bodymoor Heath…