Aston Villa and the jaws of victory

Villa go down 3-2 at Arsenal after another frustrating performance. Dave Woodhall reflects on it.

I don’t know much about rugby. I know there’s a World Cup just started in Japan but that’s about it.

Actually, there’s one more thing I do know about the sport and that’s when Aston becomes an independent nation (which is only a question of time now) they’ll win every championship going, because there’s a team there that are experts at playing well for eighty minutes.

In truth, it wasn’t the full eighty when Villa were looking good at the Emirates but they were well on top for an hour and even with ten to go it seemed as though they might, just, maybe, possibly, be able to hold on. I should know better by now.

Everything had started so well, with Villa looking lively and much the better side throughout the first half. Jack Grealish was finally pushing further forward and the rest of the team were equally impressive. John McGinn gave Villa a deserved lead, it could have been more, and when Arsenal had the only player I’ve ever seen sent off after lengthy treatment, it appeared that an unlikely win was on the cards.

Even when Arsenal equalised from the sport Villa took the setback in their stride and almost immediately went straight up the pitch to regain the lead through Wesley. Unfortunately, that virtually the last attack the team had, and when there’s over half an hour to go that’s always going to be a problem.

Arsenal hadn’t shown that much, but once they began to get on top there was no way back. Villa’s defending became increasingly last-ditch until with nine minutes remaining a header by Tyrone Mings fell perfectly for another equaliser. A foot either way and it might have been defended, but of such fine margins are games decided. Three minutes later a free-kick in a dangerous position, a badly-constructed wall and the game was effectively over.

Grealish had a shout for a penalty in the final minute that seemed more in the ‘I’ve seen them given’ rather then the Daylight Robbery category (although watching later on TV moves it further along the robbery scale) and the final whistle was a time for resignation rather than celebration.

Dean Smith should take his share of the blame for making substitutions that were either the wrong ones, or else came too late. In hindsight bringing on Ahmed Elmohamady to bolster the defence gave Arsenal more impetus to push forward and Conor Hourihane should have been introduced earlier than he was. I’d also like to know what’s happened to Douglas Luiz, who was nowhere to be seen on Sunday despite his ability to win the ball and drive forward being exactly what was needed in the closing stages.

Losing at Arsenal is no disgrace, even when the home side have played most of the match with ten men, but with the end of the game in sight Villa were comfortably in mid-table; at the final whistle they were in the bottom three. That’s the frustrating thing – no matter who you blame, and there’s a fair bit of it to be shared out, much of their performance showed that Villa are capable of matching most of the sides in this league but once more they got nothing out of a game that was theirs for the taking.

Brighton in midweek will probably give us a chance to see what the rest of the squad looks like, then Burnley at home on Saturday is the most important game of the season so far. It might still be early days – just about – but a win is vital.