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Aston Villa have started with a sprint, but will the other shoe drop against Arsenal?

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Aston Villa have started the season brilliantly, but anyone that's paid attention over the past few years should be well aware that it could come off the rails at any given moment.

Clive Mason

This is, to say the very least, a strange time in the history of Aston Villa; the club has gone from Champions League contender to rapid decline, to foundering chaos, to uncertain future, to...whatever in the world is happening right now in the space of five years. A summer of uncertainty regarding the club's ownership gave way to some unexpected signings, some REALLY unexpected re-signings, and a point total good enough for second in the league through four games. The uncertainty and trepidation remain, but things feel pretty positive right now, which is pretty unbelievable when you sit back and break it down.

Of course, this would be quite a bit more enjoyable if the fixture list were preparing to calm the hell down any time soon. That's not really the case, and though Arsenal may appear less daunting than Villa's next two opponents, they're still Arsenal. Yes, the Gunners are hurting, and yes, they look quite vulnerable. But Arsenal still have the talent edge in nearly every area, and Villa are likely to require the kind of defensive showing we've seen through the first four games in order to emerge with a result.

Precisely how sustainable Aston Villa's defensive record is will be the question of the day, and given their method of success to this point it's going to be the question of every day until Villa can pose something resembling a threat in attack. Villa's actual quality can't really be reasonably determined until their centerpiece is back in action, and Christian Benteke is such a transformative figure that nearly everything that happens in the attacking third may as well be thrown out the window until his return. At the moment it's all about the defensive phase of the game, and while Villa's showing at Anfield should be encouraging in that regard it's difficult to envision a repeat of such a performance because showings of that kind are incredibly difficult to turn in.

What Villa need, more than anything, is a major improvement in the midfield's ability to keep the ball and absorb pressure. Given the advantage Villa held for much of the game against Liverpool it's difficult to fault their approach; but that advantage won't always be present, and some measure of composure sustained over 90 minutes would be quite welcome. The Villa midfield has been pure steel on the defensive, but playing eventually they're going to need to find a way to be more incisive.

In other words, I don't know what to make of this team. The quality of the side in the defensive phase is real - it has been for quite some time, really - but maintaining the kind of numbers we've seen so far is going to require a minor miracle. The has to be an improvement  in the attacking phase, and an improvement in the middle third is a prerequisite for such a step forward. I'm not optimistic that Villa have quite reached that point as of yet. I'm optimistic that they will, because Christian Benteke is a special talent and there's been a tremendous amount of turnover on the creative side of things that will eventually begin to come together. There's going to be a corner turned, but will that come before the regression of Villa's back line? That's where things start to get interesting.