A young team with great ambition, a young manager with great pride, a team with a long way to go. Aston Villa have transformed over the past few years, and Saturday’s 0-0 draw against in form Arsenal was clear evidence of that change. It was not a classic by any means, but in terms of what Paul Lambert is hoping to achieve, it was vital.
Without experienced players such as Richard Dunne, Darren Bent, Stiliyan Petrov and Charles N’Zogbia,, Villa have almost become unrecognisable under Lambert. Following the collapse against Manchester United, and the mauling at Manchester City, some fans had been calling for the return of a few older members of the playing staff. Lambert had other ideas, putting experienced central midfielder Stephen Ireland on the bench despite his excellent form of late. When Ron Vlaar went off just after half time with an injury, it left the defence without a player over the age of 24, and left just three senior players on the field over the age of 25.
Many fans may will have expected such a young team to cave under the pressure once more after losing their leader Vlaar, but that was not to be the case. Villa played with a confidence and composure of a top team throughout the match, and were definitely the better of the two teams.
A draw may have been a fair result, but if any neutral were to pick a deserved winner of the game, it would have been the home side. Aside from an excellent performance from the ever willing Gabby Agbonlahor, Villa’s top performers in fact were Andreas Weimann, Christian Benteke and Matt Lowton, all aged 23 and under. Their great performances were down to hard work off the ball, and very good decisions on the ball, both attributes Paul Lambert has drilled into his young side from day one. Arsenal may not have been at their best, but their creative players. They were hassled and harried at every occasion, and Villa’s young lions limited Arsenal to only one shot on target during the whole match. It truly was a great team performance from Aston Villa, in a not so truly great match.
Lambert will be back to his usual position in the dugout on Tuesday night against Reading following a one match touchline ban, and it will be a different pressure himself and his players will face. The point against Arsenal took Aston Villa above Reading in the table, and fans will be expecting a win against their relegation rivals to push them further away from the relegation zone. A point against Arsenal is a bonus, anything less than 3 points at home to Reading is a failure, and Lambert knows that his side must perform to just as high a level as they showed they can against Arsenal on Saturday. Villa face three games in the following two weeks that they have every chance of winning. If they do just that, Paul Lambert’s revival will be in full swing.
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