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One moment: Arsenal’s fairytale, Villa’s nightmare

Aston Villa become the villains of Arsenal’s fairy-tale. One moment to change it all.

Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

One Moment is a rebooted post-game Aston Villa column that takes a closer look at one single moment from the last Villa game. This week, we’re looking at the moment when Aubameyang buried the Villa - but there’s more to it than a simple goal..

One moment to focus on? It’s a lie - our moment of choice is just the end result of the moments that unfolded before it. Our moment couldn’t happen without the moments preceding it. If it was to proceed in a different manner, we would probably be speaking about a different moment.

For seemingly eons, Aston Villa faced - and dealt with - Arsenal pressure. A goal from Calum Chambers eventually equalised the match at 2-2 after goals from John McGinn and Wesley, and a Pepe penalty. Moments later (!), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stood over the ball preparing to take a free-kick.

Let’s rewind and go back four years.

If I was producing this column in 2015, I’d be chewing your ear off about a Nathan Dyer goal in the 89th minute. A complete and utter turnaround inspired by seemingly... nothing. It just drifts away, regardless.

Aston Villa were relegated following the poor results that came after this result - but this was the game that relegated them. A gutpunch to a barely-capable team that was blown full of hot air. Dyer’s goal was the pin that burst that particular balloon. The resulting season wasn’t fun for anyone - not Tim Sherwood nor Remi Garde, not Joleon Lescott or Jack Grealish, and certainly not the fans.

Our hindsight benefits us here, because if we now know that that 3-2 would be the result that relegated the Villa in September, we could’ve certainly saved ourselves a lot of agony. Not the agony of the results or the football, but the agony of hope and expectation. We could’ve learned to enjoy being bad, somehow. We weren’t to be granted that, because that vision and foresight is not to be bestowed on anyone - so we lived, adrift on hope. Clutching at straws, to say the least.

We knew right then and there that we weren’t good enough, but we wanted to believe based on nothing but baseless optimism. The optimism of 2019 after another 3-2 loss is not baseless. There are clear signs of Villa’s ability, and there are clear errors being committed - things can change. Hold onto that, as you speed through time.

Fast-forward. Pause. Play.

You’re back in 2019 and at 2-2 Aubameyang has just buried the free-kick that he was standing over. Arsenal have won this game, and out of nowhere, they have heaped piles of pressure upon Aston Villa. Villa, who looked so, so good until the 60th minute mark, had fallen away to tired legs and given away a silly free-kick.

Then, the elite buries it. Things happen. I lied. This is not ‘one moment’ but a series of moments. It’s the nervy optimism that follows McGinn’s opener, the weighted acceptance of Pepe’s penalty, the joyous glee of Wesley’s effort and the crushing reality of Aubameyang’s winner, each proceeding each other in a perfect narrative arc.

The story of this game was never really Aston Villa’s was it? We were the bad guy. We scored, we stunned, we shocked - and then the hero steps up to bag the winner. It unfolded so perfectly, a dream-like fairy tale for Arsenal. The start of a nightmare for Aston Villa?

Villa can only attack, and attack. Their defence has to put up with the pressure and has done a sturdy job up until now. Arsenal didn’t need a defence for the second half and thus they could completely ignore the question about their defence. Their bad, and awful defence. It didn’t matter! All it took was one moment, the moment built of many for Arsenal to sweep Villa away.

In pre-match analysis, we need to heap scorn onto teams and look for ways in which Aston Villa can intrude. In our post-match analysis we must turn that scorn into respect, shake on it and walk away. But we also must ask ourselves, oh how good it must feel to win, 3-2, and snatch victory and acclaim.

How good it must feel, to be the hero. Aston Villa now have the chance to change their path, and correct the ruin of 2015.