There are many reasons to believe that Aston Villa's lopsided defeat at the hands of Arsenal last weekend may not have been the most predictive outcome. By all accounts, the bug that was going around Bodymoor Heath last week was pretty nasty and quite virulent, taking its toll on at least half of Villa's squad and wreaking serious havoc on the majority of Villa's key players. Playing football at the Premier League level is hard enough and doing so against a much more talented side is even more of a mountain to climb. Overcoming those kind of odds when the entirety of your central nervous system is attempting to exit your body via any route possible? That's about as tough as it gets.
But it's also true that Arsenal managed to take Villa apart in a manner that was at the very least somewhat predictable; Villa came out guns blazing from the get-go, but the Gunners weathered the storm, found the opening, and scored. And then they scored again. And, sure, one more time. Why not. It's reasonable to think that Villa's disorganization was in large part a product of the fatigue and general weakness caused by the illness that made last weekend all but a lost cause from the opening whistle, but did things go down in a fashion that would have seemed out of place even if Villa's squad were in perfect health at pure strength?
That's one of the things that's strange about being a side that's over-performed in such a short period of time; the result against Arsenal wasn't unexpected, but there were clearly exacerbating circumstances. So, those that expect Villa to yet again be a hot pile of excrement can take comfort in the result, but those that took Villa's start to the season have a fallback as well. Everyone wins! Until today, of course,
Because if Villa manage to beat, or even put up a fight against Chelsea, it's going to be quite difficult to discount them as a threat. And of Villa come out and get picked apart by the Blues, it's going to be similarly difficult to ignore their being exposed by top-table sides two weeks in a row. Let's call the Arsenal game a mulligan; you only get one of those, and unfortunately for Villa they're right back into the fire just one week later.
Luckily, Villa doesn't have a whole lot to lose. Yes, the preconceptions of the pundits may be reinforced by a heavy Villa loss, but Chelsea isn't the level against which Villa ought to be measured, On any given day regardless of prior form, the Blues would be heavy favorites. This is a game which, at the beginning of the season, is going to be marked down as a loss before moving on. Drop a 4-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge? Dust off and move along.
But take a result, and the extenuating circumstances of last week's game raise an eyebrow. The (still pretty ridiculous but pretty wonderful) question of whether or not this is for real can be asked again without being completely discounted. We're still in the fun, anything-is-possible portion of the season, and if you're a Villa fan that enjoys fun, you're going to keep clinging to hope as long as possible.