For Villa, this season has been like one drink too many on a good night out. It seemed like an awfully good idea at the time, but soon things become messy and that result in you desperately trying to remember quite what happened. If anything at all.
And this weekend, Villa travel to The Emirates to face an Arsenal side that does as much to puzzle its own supporters as our own club manages. We face the Gunners at a time when they are not fighting for titles, or indeed second spot really, but to hold onto third place – rather than have to ponder Champions League qualification rounds.
In any event that was the aspiration for Villa less than a year ago. And my how things can change in a year. Martin O’Neill’s departure just five days before the seasons opener has been much documented as the catalyst for a year of obscurity. Although even the most pessimistic of supporters didn’t envisage quite such a struggle for points and indeed our local pride.
Arsenal are a difficult package to work out. The highs of victory over Barcelona are contrasted with defeat to our bitter rivals Birmingham City in the League Cup final. Genuine, notable achievements have been offset against abysmal failures. The once lauded Arsene Wenger appears to have truly lost his way, fielding a youthful mix of talented players – but whom amongst them are lacking one critical feature – winners.
Whilst Villa cannot be said to have been on the same wave-length as Arsenal for a few years, this has been the problem plaguing our team season after season. You can build a team that is exciting and adventurous, one that can defend with ingenuity and guile, but ultimately you must have players of true class to take you to the next level. And the absence of this pure natural ability will likely be Villa’s downfall on Sunday.
One hopes that we can muster a acceptable defensive display in order that our attacking players can at least have an influence upon the match. Too often in 2010/11, the hard work of Downing etc has been undone by utterly hopeless defending. And the goals of Darren Bent, have nearly all been undermined by equally shambolic decisions at the back. Hopefully he has not arrived two season too late.
Arsenal are not invincible as this seasons form has shown. But they can be ruthless and have a task to complete. A win secures third spot for them. Defeat opens up the realistic proposition that Manchester City could overtake them for third. That would surely not represent a forward step for a club harbouring domestic and European ambitions.
As Villa fans we should hope that stand-in boss McAllister doesn’t try to infer too much of his tactical ideas upon the match. To date, his decision making has been poor, and the Emirates is not the time to try new ideas. New ideas can of course translate into drubbings.
Perhaps Sunday will represent the end of a hopeful era for Aston Villa with a summer of change looming? Afterall this was the place where the hopes and dreams of the O’Neill era began with an Olof Mellberg header. Villa should use this as both the place to bury a flawed dream – and the opportunity to mark the start of the recovery.
Prediction Corner: An optimistic 1-0 to Villa.