By Jonathan Parkin
Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0
A weekend of good results and odd decisions, and a loss for Watford at the hands of Manchester City, provided Villa with a lifeline. The sacking of Nigel Pearson by the Hornets suggested turmoil at the club, and the Villans could definitely make the most of this with a win against an in-form Arsenal team.
Dean Smith named an unchanged starting XI to that which drew against Everton, there were a number of positives from the performance against the Toffees, and Smith clearly saw it that way. Ally Samatta kept his place despite a string of poor performances, perhaps Deano believes Keinan Davis is more effective as an impact sub against tired defenders. Mikel Arteta made five changes from the team that beat Manchester City at Wembley; however, changes certainly didn’t mean a lack of quality on the pitch for the Gunners.
Villa fans everywhere will have been sweating profusely and tearing their hair out for the agonising 67 minutes after Trezeguet’s winning goal. After all the times Villa have gone down to the wire leading and thrown it away, it was easy to accept that the same would happen again.
Keinan Davis firing wide a great opportunity brought back memories from the recent past, El Ghazi against Everton, and memories of further back this season. Eddy Nketiah’s header glancing off the post and nearly being spilled by Pepe Reina was sure to have given heart palpitations to many. The pay off for fans is the feeling of elation at the final whistle that hasn’t come many times in recent weeks, and that it’s Villa’s place in the Premier League to lose.
If only circumstances hadn’t stopped fans from being in Villa Park, the atmosphere really would have been something to remember.
It would be easy to get ahead of yourself and assume that the Villa boys are safe after such a monumental win. Villa. Anything is possible still on the final day of the season. A slip off the accelerator cannot be allowed to happen, if Villa can beat Arsenal, so can Watford, so beating West Ham is a must.
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Pepe Reina – 7
Arsenal failed to register a shot on target in the 90 minutes, this shows how little Pepe Reina had to do. He claimed crosses with relative ease and got a little lucky with the bounce off his knee from the Nketiah header. His presence is so much more reassuring than that of Orjan Nyland, the fact is that Reina has far fewer mistakes in him than Nyland. Having a talkative goalkeeper that leads the defence helps them play as a unit.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6
It is a shame that Ahmed Elmohamady had to come off after the drinks break, as he showed promise in the opening stages. A good cross onto the head of John McGinn showcased the full-back’s ability from out wide.
Ezri Konsa – 8.5
What a performance from Ezri Konsa. The 22-year-old was in the right place at the right time on several occasions, especially in the second half, when a Mings error allowed Aubameyang space in the box. On top of this he passed the ball accurately and made seven clearances and two blocks, Konsa really was a rock at the back.
Tyrone Mings – 7.5
This was much more like the Tyrone Mings Villa fans want to see. He did make a couple of small errors, but thankfully other members of the defence came to his aid. For once the Villa backline played as a unit, covering for each other and working together, far from the disjointed mess than has been seen so often, at Villa Park this season. When Mings cuts out the errors, he is a solid defender who puts his body on the line to make blocks and tackles, he showed his commitment with a fantastic defensive header from an Arsenal free kick.
Matt Targett – 7.5
Matt Targett started the game fantastically with a couple of good tackles, and kept up his performance throughout the match. The attacking full-back pushed forward to provide an option on the front foot, and he played a handful of lovely passes into the midfield. His reaction on Twitter shows how much the win means to him.
Douglas Luiz – 7.5
Mr Consistent from after the break, Douglas Luiz did his job and more, in defensive midfield. A combined seven blocks, tackles and clearances emphasise the good work the Brazilian did. A few handy tactical fouls from Doug also gave Villa some control in the game, stopping attacks before they could become dangerous. His most impressive attribute has become his positioning, filling in for defenders when they are dragged wide or beaten.
Conor Hourihane – 7
Will commentator’s ever get sick of rolling out the ‘Conor Hourihane has a wand of a left foot’ line? They certainly won’t if he continues to provide excellent set piece delivery. His corner that resulted in the goal was on the money, and allowed Tyrone Mings to flick the ball on to Trezeguet. The Irishman didn’t get stuck in much defensively, but his set piece delivery, and attacking mentality certainly strengthened the Villa cause.
John McGinn – 8
This is how John McGinn should be playing. The Scotsman was a ball of energy in the middle of the park, and his turn on Kolasinac before being bundled to the deck was first class. He played some wonderful passes, including a cross field pass from right to left, directly into the feet of Jack Grealish. This is the kind of midfielder Villa have been crying out for since Super John’s injury, and he is back, just about in the nick of time.
Trezeguet – 7.5
Trezeguet better look into cancelling his plane tickets back to Turkey. The more criticism the Egyptian gets, the more he seems to thrive (he has certainly got a pasting in these ratings once or twice). He caught the ball beautifully for the winning goal, and has seemingly made the back post at set-pieces his hunting ground for goals. Villa’s unlikely hero has stepped up, and scored some of the most important goals in recent seasons.
Ally Samatta – 6.5
Tanzanian Ally Samatta put the effort in, the quality just wasn’t there. When the ball found itself at his feet, the play slowed and Samatta seemed incapable of playing a forward pass. There were some good elements to his game, his aerial play was much improved, and several moves started as the striker knocked the ball down to a teammate. Despite this, the goal threat from Villa certainly wasn’t coming from Samatta.
Jack Grealish © – 8.5
Though Jack Grealish’s interview post-match didn’t sound promising for his future at the club, the Villa skipper played a blinder when it mattered. The exhaustion at full-time highlighted the importance of the three points to Villa fans and players alike. If Keinan Davis had slotted the ball pass Emiliano Martinez, the Villa faithful would be talking about a great assist. To create something out of nothing in that way, to skip past defenders and play the perfect through ball, is something that would be sorely missed at the Villa, if Jack was to leave.
Off the Bench
Frederic Guilbert (24) – 8
Villa fans love Frederic Guilbert, and it is easy to see why. The Frenchman’s work rate and commitment, as well as his flying tackles make him an exciting player to watch. His geeing up of the team after a superb tackle to win a Villa goal kick in the second half, is exactly the kind of thing Villa need in highly pressurised situations. Guilbert added to his defensive performance with some clever overlapping runs, that allowed Villa to get behind the Arsenal defence once or twice.
Keinan Davis (72) – 6.5
A Premier League goal for Keinan Davis seems an impossibility at this point. Despite his greatest efforts, and ability to get into goalscoring positions, his lack of composure certainly makes goalscoring a taxing feat. You could argue that he did the hard part, shrugging off the Arsenal defender after being put through, before missing his glorious chance. Davis definitely deserves to have scored at least once, but the Premier League is ruthless and you have to take your chances. He did provide an outlet for the Villans however, and that took pressure off the back line late on.
Marvelous Nakamba (72) – 6
Zimbabwean Marvelous Nakamba was combative to say the least when he entered the fray. He attempted two tackles, and both of them ended up being fouls, though this could be seen as a negative, it broke up the Arsenal play somewhat. This meant the Gunners weren’t able to get into a rhythm.
Henri Lansbury (92) – n/a
A victory for Villa may have surprised fans somewhat, but an ever so rare sighting of Henri Lansbury probably surprised them more. The fact that this is his fiftieth Villa appearance in three and a half years, goes just some of the way to show just how much the 29-year-old has struggled to make his mark at Villa Park.
Dean Smith – 8
In-game against Arsenal, he switched the team’s formation a couple of times to good affect and showed that he has the tactical nous to overcome teams with superior personnel.
After what seemed like irreversible damage done to Villa by Manchester United, the boys in claret and blue have picked up seven points in three matches. Dean Smith should take a lot of credit for this, his perseverance and work on the defence have come good. The emphasis on improved defensive performances has taken a while to come into fruition, but the team is now reaping the rewards. A lot of help has been given to Villa by relegation rivals, but Deano has snatched the opportunity when it came. It is amazing the difference that winning a couple of games can make.
That being said, it is certainly not over yet. One more game, but at the vital time, Villa hold the cards.
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