It was like watching an episode of the Twilight Zone. There's a soccer match going on, and Aston Villa are actually playing really well! For the first 30 minutes, they've outplayed Arsenal by a pretty significant margin. Then, we see a flash and there is no Villa on the pitch, and just as suddenly another flash and Villa reappear. Except that when they did, Arsenal had scored three goals in 210 seconds and the Villa players were looking around dazed and trying to figure out where that time went.
Just as with last week's match against Liverpool, Villa came out unafraid of the big club facing them. They pressed, they pushed up, they had a lovely chance on a free kick that Ciaran Clark got his head on but Wojciech Szczesny put in a brilliant effort to prevent Villa from taking the lead. A few other missed opportunities kept the door open for Arsneal. And then, in the 32nd minute, Mesut Özil got a great ball and sprinted forward for a one-on-one with Brad Guzan. He scored, but it was a brilliant goal that was against the run of play. Villa should be able to come back, right? Except in the 34th minute Danny Welbeck scored. And then the 36th saw an Aly Cissokho own goal. And then Villa reappeared, weakened and dazed by their momentary disappearance from reality.
The second half, in comparison, was really boring. Arsenal seemed to dominate, but without much to show for it. Jack Grealish came on and continued to be fouled. Particularly egregious was a foul from Calum Chambers that saw the Arsenal defender grab Grealish by the shoulder and throw him down. It would have been his second yellow, but no card was given.
Carlos Sanchez, who came on before the match for an ill Ashley Westwood, looked absolutely dreadful today. There's a good player there, but don't expect to see Paul Lambert letting him back on the pitch any time soon. The reality of the day is that this same Villa club with Ron Vlaar, Ashley Westwood, and Christian Benteke convert some of those first-half chances. They don't give up the quick three goals. We also have to wonder just how many people of the team were actually taken ill with the virus running rampant through the club. It kept out Westwood, Darren Bent, Nathan Baker and made Andi Weimann come off at the half. I'd have to imagine others were feeling its effects.
So sure, this sucked. But this stretch that began with Liverpool was always going to be tough. And 3-6 points from it would have been great. We've gotten 3 already. Villa need a draw or two in the next few matches and then, with Benteke (and maybe Libor Kozak) back, they'll have one of the easiest stretches in the EPL this season. This match was terrible, but it doesn't doom Villa.