While Aston Villa clearly cannot and will not win every game, the limp manner in which Nottingham Forest shrugged off an in-form Villa side made for a frustrating watch. As Villa head into two important home games this week, here are the Five Reasons to be Cheerful:
Whether you’re Pep Guardiola with his billion pound squad or the ever-whinging Arteta with his high-flying Arsenal, one thing is for sure, that you will still drop points at some point during the season. In Villa’s case, the strong start to the season encountered a bump in the road on Sunday against what turned out to be a gritty and organised Forest side. Nonetheless it took two long distance goals to end Villa’s rich form, and a very toothless effort in front of goal from the side sat in fifth.
While the defeat was a sucker punch, it isn’t the first disappointing result under Emery so far. The good news is that Villa tend to bounce back in style, and this week presents an excellent opportunity to do just that. Following the unacceptable defeat at home to Stevenage in January, Villa got the fans back onside with wins against Leeds and Southampton, restoring some faith. This was followed by a three-game losing streak against Leicester, Manchester City and Arsenal. Villa responded in the best way possible by starting a ten-game unbeaten run, which included eight wins. They were only denied a ninth win against West Ham due to a dodgy penalty.
Villa then finished last season strongly, beating Tottenham and Brighton and coming close to defeating Liverpool. However, these results followed on from two defeats against Wolves and Manchester United. This season, we have seen a similar pattern emerge as following two thumpings away at Newcastle and Liverpool, Villa recovered well to beat Palace, Chelsea, Brighton, Zrinjski, West Ham, AZ Alkmaar and Luton. The upcoming home ties this week provide the perfect opportunity to get back on track and all but secure knock-out qualification in Europe.
Despite the defeat at Forest, Villa saw the majority of the teams around them drop points this weekend. While Villa sit in the top five spaces, it makes logical sense to focus on trying to qualify for the Champions League. With that in mind, the weekend managed to save Villa’s blushes to an extent. Liverpool drew with Luton, Tottenham lost at home to Chelsea and Arsenal lost to Newcastle.
Villa’s buffer in fifth has diminished as a result, but under Emery, it has always been a case of looking upwards rather than what lies beneath. Newcastle are plagued with injuries, Manchester United appear to be broken, while Chelsea are still nowhere near the Abramovich-era side. Whether it’s overly ambitious or not, there is a real chance for this Villa side to break through into the elite echelons of the league. Therefore, this weekend has ensured Villa don’t fall away from the top pack despite a poor result on the road.
On Thursday, Villa will complete the double-header against one of the original favourites for the competition, AZ Alkmaar. Following on from the surprising 4-1 away drubbing of the Dutch side, Villa can all but secure qualification with a home win. Assuming both Villa and Legia win their home ties this week, it sets up a possible winner-takes-all tie between Villa and Legia Warsaw at the end of the month. The fiery home atmosphere would be one to savour, but first things first, Villa must ensure that the away win in Holland doesn’t go to waste and put Alkmaar to the sword.
Stories have emerged that Scottish U21 international Rory Wilson is being offered a five year deal to stay at Villa Park amidst strong interest from other clubs. Even before joining Villa, Wilson was regarded as the ‘real deal’; a player with huge potential to become a leading striker in Europe. This year, he has scored 11 goals in 7 matches in the U18 league, which on its own may not definitively prove anything, but there is certainly mounting interest in the progress of this young man.
Villa’s focus on poaching and developing talented young players has been a focal point since the new owners took control of the club. The pathway has been set by players such as Jacob Ramsey, indicating that if the ability is there, opportunities will be presented. Under Emery, standards have certainly been raised, making it harder for talent to break into the starting XI, as seen with the departures of Cameron Archer and Aaron Ramsey. Nonetheless, Villa now has a reputation for developing young talent and providing them with opportunities to build successful careers, whether that is at Villa Park or elsewhere. Rory Wilson is certainly one to watch, and if he commits his future to the club, then fans will hopefully hear his name mentioned more and more in the coming seasons.
One of Villa’s most improved players under Emery is Douglas Luiz, a player who had a frustrating first couple of seasons in the Premier League before finally showing glimpses under Steven Gerrard, despite the manager refusing to reward his good form with starting roles at the beginning of last season. Since the addition of Emery and his ability to access the upside in players, it is unsurprising that Luiz has almost instantly started to show the talent that many knew he possessed.
His call-up to the Brazilian national squad is a reward for a fantastic start to the season, during which he has shown a desire to not only do the defensive work, as he used to under Dean Smith, but also to shine at both creating and scoring goals for Villa. The Brazilian manager’s comments about him this week will no-doubt boost his confidence and hopefully ensure his excellent season continues to burn brightly.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen