"Why can't we go to the top clubs and have a go," they said.
It didn't work. As you'd never expect it to work.
I came into today's game thinking that all I wanted to see was a solid performance from Villa. They weren't likely to get anything in the first place — Arsenal were in great form entering the contest — and all I wanted to see was some positive momentum carried over from what had in all honesty been a really good week for the club.
Instead, we got that.
To be fair, I didn't think that Villa played that poorly for the first 55 minutes or so. Sure, they fell behind early because they were trying to go a million miles per minute but once the game started to settle down, they looked alright. Villa saw more of the ball, did things pretty well, but once again couldn't generate that great chance to put the team level.
And then the floodgates opened.
But ultimately, here's what troubles me most from today's result:
Arsenal won the game on the counterattack. Villa's best look at goal was from 30 yards out on the last shot of the game.
I've gotta say that Arsene Wenger has gotten it right these last few weeks for the Gunners. They set up for the counter on their trip to the Etihad — a smart decision — and then rightly let Villa have about all of the ball as they wanted. Villa pressed up the pitch during the teams' first meeting in Birmingham and on the return fixture, they did the same thing and it worked brilliantly again.
But when you're undone on the counter and are the side that sees more of the ball, you fundamentally have to put together solid scoring chances. Villa didn't. It's downright embarrassing to see as much of the ball as Villa did today only to not even create opportunities for goals, let alone the goals themselves.
Carles Gil was a bit of a bright spot but there wasn't much movement up top for him. It's difficult to have influence as a playmaker when your teammates aren't giving you options. Scott Sinclair looked alright in his 25-minute cameo and should probably start at the weekend against Chelsea.
And while, yes, the stretch of matches that starts on Feb. 10 against Hull City is going to be the one that probably determines Villa's fate, there's really very little in this side right now that inspires the belief that they're going to be able to find a way to grind out results.
That midweek clash at Hull is going to be the most vital one of the year. They're miserable by any advanced statistical metric and unless things turn around, survival for them would be a minor miracle.
But at the same point in time, Villa have just 12 points from their last 19 matches. If they continue that pace through the final 15 of the term, they'll finish at 31 or 32 points. They'd surely go down.
The tactics today were... I don't know. One of the biggest strengths of Paul Lambert's time at Norwich City was the supposed tactical flexibility. This idea that his sides could go out in three straight weeks and play three different styles in order to best put themselves in a position to pick up points.
We either haven't seen that during his reign at Villa or he's just decided the wrong tactics on too many occasions. Going and trying to play an open game with Arsenal was never going to work, especially given Villa's ineptitude when it comes to creating chances. Setting up to counterattack — which this team is still decently suited for — would've been a much better tactical plan than what we got.
When it comes down to it, I've never been one to call for Paul Lambert's head left and right. He's a guy that genuinely wants to turn this club around, seemingly at all costs.
But that's the issue.
Lambert is — and always has been, really — in over his head at Villa. While there have been small glimpses of hope here and there, the club is yet to turn a corner, player progression has gone stagnant, and there's never been a consistent, go-to tactic that's evolved as one the club can routinely put in good performances with.
When Aston Villa went to Southampton in December of 2013 and won, they walked out of the St. Mary's with 19 points in hand through just 14 league games. It felt like a corner was turned and that Villa were en route to a top-half finish.
Since then? Just 41 points in 47 games.
And looking more recently, when Chelsea come to Villa Park on Saturday, it will have been two months and nine outings since Villa last won a Premier League game.
Paul Lambert is in over his head.
The club need to sack him as much for his own good as their own.