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Premier League: Things we learnt as Watkins stars as Villa rattle Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium


Aston Villa continues picking up points this season in tremendous fashion while Arsenal seems to continue with their “One Step forward, Two Steps back” approach. The Gunners slumped to 11th place while Aston Villa are now inside the top 6. Two months ago, one would’ve assumed that their positions would be the other way around.

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  • Arsenal have got work to do and it’s not just at the back.

Just when the ship seemed to be sailing smoothly again for the gunners, Aston Villa decides to spoil their Partey (pun intended). Mikel Arteta’s side were on the plus side of a decent three-game winning streak (Albeit against a couple of Europa league teams and last season’s Semi-Finalist Manchester United). Thomas Partey had been molded into the side in place of Dani Ceballos alongside Mohammed Elneny in a two-man midfield. This switch had some fans surprised as it signaled towards a conservative approach taken by the Arsenal Boss. Unsurprisingly, the arsenal attack seemed to lack some bite going forward as the link between defense and attack comprised of two very defensive-minded midfielders. This forced almost the entirety of Arsenal’s attack through the flank, which Aston Villa had very well anticipated. When a team attacks only via the flanks, it becomes predictable for the opposition. This explains in part, why Arsenal have struggled this season. All said and done, Tierney produced a delightful cross for Lacazette, who couldn’t even keep his header on target. That header summed up Arsenal’s forgettable performance. The Gunners have got big ambitions this season, and to do that they must figure out multiple routes to goal.

  • Aston Villa means business and this season exemplifies that.

Football is a team sport and not many clubs have played together as a “Unit” better than Aston Villa have this season. The all English backline has kept yet another clean sheet, as former Gunner Emiliano Martinez is turning up consistently for the Villains. The midfield trio of Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, and Ross Barkley is industrious, hardworking and also comprises of wonderful attacking flair. Some of Barkley’s and McGinn’s movements have been exceptional this season and not just against Arsenal. The front line speaks for itself with Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins amongst 10 goals scored between them. Jack Grealish is also the second most creative player in the league with 5 assists, only behind Harry Kane himself. Aston Villa looks like a side back from the dead after battling relegation last season. If they keep consistency throughout the festive holiday period, a European spot may be on the cards. Fingers crossed.

  •  Aston Villa plays wholesome football and it’s not all Jack Grealish now.

Don’t get me wrong, Grealish is a star and will only get better this season. Aston Villa have put up a show, quite often this season and it would be supremely unfair to credit all of that to Jack Grealish. They have become a more complete side capable of executing all parts of the game, to perfection. One of the remarkable aspects of their game this season has been their relentless drive to press forward while ensuring defensive shape has been maintained throughout. Aston Villa have been defensively superior this season with the likes of Ezri Ngoyo Konsa, Tyrone Mings, and Martinez at the back. This has allowed positional freedom for the likes of Barkley and McGinn to make darting runs into the box. With two attacking No.8s to supplement the attack, it causes all sorts of problems for the opposing backline. Another striking aspect has been the chemistry that Grealish and Barkley share. The telepathic nature of their passing has almost been palpable this season. We saw glimpses of that when they demolished Liverpool but now it has been a more consistent outlay. We’re no longer in what is referred to as the “Early stages” of the season, and I believe Ross Barkley is the missing piece this Villa side have lacked last season. That is not to say that they would’ve comfortably escaped relegation last season, but rather that this team has grown tremendously in terms of character and shape.

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What’s next?

Aston Villa welcome Brighton and Hove Albion at Villa Park. Arsenal faces a stern test on their quest for putting points on the board, as they travel to Elland Road and face Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.


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