Aston Villa and the familiar pattern

Villa’s defeat at Arsenal left Dave Woodhall perplexed.

It’s time to dust off that old quote about doing something again and still getting it wrong being proof of insanity, or something. I don’t think Dean Smith has gone mad, or at least not any more so than should be expected when you’re the Villa manager, but he does insist on trying my patience, at least.

A few weeks ago we played with five at the back at Old Trafford. To put it mildly, the end result was a rip-roaring success. It was followed by a couple of bad performances, and bad results. Time, surely, to drop the formation that might work as a one-off but hasn’t seemed right as a regular feature for years? Sorry, in the words of a gone but unfortunately not forgotten ex-manager, we go again.

The end result was inevitable. Arsenal are the sort of team who, as we see regularly, are capable of winning any match they’re allowed to, but they’re a different proposition when the other team take the initiative. If we’d got into them from the off another result like the one at the Emirates last season was possible. Instead, the trepidation felt when the team was announced seemed to transfer itself onto the pitch and the players appeared defeated almost from the kick-off.

And as a result Arsenal got a win that was as easy for them as that one almost a year ago had been for us – and boy, does that team and the swagger they had seem a long time ago now. Arsenal scored one, they scored another, although whether the second should have been allowed to stand is debatable and certainly won’t be brought up as often as Hawkeye Sheffield United is. It wasn’t easy to watch.

Villa improved a bit after the break, and certainly after reverting to four defenders, which has to be the way forward. Leon Bailey came on and once again showed his ability, Jacob Ramsey scored a lovely goal but unfortunately that was after Arsenal had got another, so it didn’t count for very much. Add to rumours of bust-ups between the players and coaching staff, and it was a night to forget, or rather to learn from and never repeat.

I can see the point of playing with THAT formation occasionally. I also have fond memories of it being used to great success in the two most unexpectedly good seasons I’ve been watching the Villa. The difference is that both Sir Graham and Brian Little had Paul McGrath as one of the three, the former also had world-class players in Gordon Cowans and David Platt while the latter had Gary Charles and Alan Wright, genuine wingbacks who could get forward in the knowledge that they were leaving three reliable defenders behind them. Dean Smith doesn’t have that luxury, which is why I can’t understand his insistence on persevering with it for at least 45 minutes too long.

To carry on with the historical analogy, what did for Brian was his attempts to cram Stan Collymore into a team where Savo Milosevic and Dwight Yorke were performing well enough. It seems as though Dean might be making the same mistake with Danny Mings and Ollie Watkins. It doesn’t matter which of them starts as long as we win; nobody says a player is a waste of money if the team’s doing well. I know we had a disjointed summer and the start of the season wasn’t much better but the injuries are clearing up, the players should be settled and stop-gap planning doesn’t have to be used anymore.

For the sake of my sanity at least, send the team out next week to win, Dean. Start with Buendia and Bailey, have Watkins on the bench and most of all, when you’re writing down the defenders, get to four then stop.