Aston Villa and the old routine

Villa win 3-0 at Arsenal, and Dave Woodhall enjoys proceedings again.

Last time Villa played Arsenal we were on the way to a record-breaking escape from relegation, not that it’s anything to boast about as we shouldn’t have been in such a position in the first place.

I still say that one of the main reasons for that was the way in which the team fell away after blowing three points at the Emirates early in the season. You might have thought that with all the advances in Premier League fitness levels someone could have come up with a way to boost a team’s confidence, but with Villa it’s still the same old story – one setback and they can take months to recover.

Four wins at the start of this season should have helped deal with this mindset, but a couple of subsequent defeats have meant that the old doubts are resurfacing, and what better opponents to face in this sort of situation than a team who take inconsistency to unprecedented heights? Arsenal are capable of beating or losing to anyone at the best of times, let alone in this unpredictable season.

With Traore injured Villa’s team picked itself, which says more about our lack of strength in depth than about the ability of the starters and this was born out with a glance at the bench, where only Anwar El Ghazi looked capable of making a positive contribution.

Except that game-changing substitutions weren’t needed. It’s a cliche to say that Villa were in control from the first kick until the last, and this time it wasn’t strictly true. It took at least a minute for Villa to get a grip on the game, when Jack McGinn’s goal was rule out for offside, but it was still only a minor setback.

The inevitable opener came via a ball from the impressive Matt Targett after fine approach play, and although the second took longer to arrive than it should have, Ollie Watkins got another almost immediately to wrap up the points long before the final whistle. At the Emirates last season Villa were a goal up and froze. This time we dominated.

Choosing a man of the match was harder than winning the match itself. Watkins is the obvious choice, not just for his goals but also for the way in which he worked with his team-mates. To say Jack Grealish was up to his usual standard is to say that he dominated midfield in the manner of a world-class footballer, while Trezeguet’s workrate allied to a fair amount of skill is inviting comparisons with James Milner, if not the otherwise incomparable Des Bremner. In fact, the only player who wasn’t a contender was Emiliano Martinez, and that was because he hardly had a thing to do on his return to his old ground.

This time the records are being set for the right reason. It was Villa’s best result away at Arsenal since 1928, and after another dominant attacking performance there has to be some looking back at great Villa sides of the past to see how this team matches up. Naturally they have a long way to go before such comparisons can properly be made, but in terms of excitement and not knowing at kick-off what the next ninety minutes might bring, 1976-77 wouldn’t be a bad shout.

All in all it was another strange result in a season of strange results – although it shouldn’t be seen as such. As I said at the beginning, Arsenal can beat anyone on their day. And as we saw yet again, so can Aston Villa.