Aston Villa and Arsenal provide an example of the fungibility of narrative

Clive Mason

Following the last meeting between these two sides, the conventional wisdom suggested that Arsene Wenger was a man whose time was up and that Paul Lambert was a legend in the making. Five months later, it would appear as though things have changed.

The last time I wrote about a matchup between these two sides, things were quite a bit different on both fronts; Aston Villa were coming off a productive summer transfer window on the back of a promising end to the 2012-13 season and spirits were high. It was a different story where Arsenal were concerned; with the close of the transfer window rapidly approaching the club had yet to make a significant addition, and questions over whether the club's leadership-including Arsene Wenger-were right to take the club forward were beginning to grow louder.

The result that day certainly didn't help matters; it was the kind of performance Villa fans spent the summer dreaming of, their counter-attacking game working to perfection, not letting down a performance from the defense the likes of which would have been a dream just a year prior. Arsenal were still the more refined side, of course, but Villa played excellent football that played to their strengths and won a deserved and emphatic victory at the Emirates, as good an omen for the season's first game as could be expected.

And then, things took a turn. Arsenal would win their next 10 games across all competitions, and didn't suffer their first loss in the Premier League until November 10th. The Gunners spent the majority of the first half of the season at the top of the table, splashing the cash on club-record signing Mesut Özil and going on the play some of their best football in years along the way. Villa, meanwhile, has been Villa, and if you're reading this the chances are quite good you're painfully aware of what that's entailed. It's difficult to say that the opening game of the season hasn't been the high point so far, and though Villa sit 11th in the table they're just 5 points ahead of the drop and seemingly in for yet another battle for survival. What's more, they've badly regressed in terms of their style and watchability, and though results are clearly the most important thing it's difficult to see performances like the one they put in back in August as delivering any less in terms of points.

Playing at home clearly isn't any kind of solace for Villa fans, but (weirdly) Arsenal's place towards the top of the table may be; some of Villa's better performances have come against significantly more talented teams, and though random chance is the most likely explanation there's also something to the idea that Villa's counter-attack is more effective against teams that like to press forward and keep possession. Even if that's the case, Villa's defense and midfield need to show significant improvement over recent showings in order to have much of a chance. Suffice to say, that would come as a pretty major surprise.

This is why Villa's December was such a disappointment; failing to earn a single point from Palace, Stoke and Fulham made an already difficult start to the New Year a significantly more nervy proposition, and without and points from Arsenal or Liverpool, it's not far-fetched to think Villa could be into the bottom 5 before the end of the month. Given the way the season started, that's a rather depressing thought. The transfer window could help change the equation, but there's little reason to believe that the core of this team isn't going to be the group that will be depended on to get it done. They've beaten Arsenal once this season, and maybe there' some residual confidence left over from opening day that can inspire Villa to play up to the potential they showed in the early fall. But at the moment, it feels like a win over a team anywhere near the European places would require some kind of a miracle.

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