I woke up on Saturday feeling quite optimistic, which was strange because enduring the last two years had left me feeling otherwise on match days. However, due to the good form we’ve shown at the start of this season, I was really looking forward to seeing how we would fare against Arsenal, especially after the mid-week defeat in the Champions League against the dominant Dortmund.
The stadium filled up to near-capacity and the stage was set for the two teams to battle hard for the three points. However, an hour before kick-off, there were rumours going around that some of the players in the squad had been ill as a mystery bug had inevitably spread, meaning that a few of the players were not in any fit state to play a full ninety minutes.
As I read that on Twitter, I felt it might have been a wind-up started by some fans. But, as other sports websites such as the BBC and Sky Sports started reporting it, I realised that it was probably true and was left hoping that it didn’t affect too many players as this was a big game. Unfortunately, Ashley Westwood, someone who I actually consider vital to the team, was hit by the bug and Nathan Baker was also omitted from the match day squad and sent home, which was a shame as I know he would have wanted to build on his great performance last week. At the time, it was reported Darren Bent had also been sent home because of illness but I wasn’t too concerned by that news as Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann were still fit enough to play.
After the starting line-ups were announced, it must have been a shock for Carlos Sanchez as he was put in straight away to cover for Ashley Westwood. Ciaran Clark filled in for Nathan Baker and, to the Villans’ credit, they started very well. The team showed no signs of illness, up until the half hour mark. Due to a moment of madness, we conceded three goals in under four minutes and after that the result of the match was a foregone conclusion.
Some players came under fire, namely Carlos Sanchez and Ciaran Clark. We do have to understand that Sanchez is still adjusting to life in the Premiership and in England so we have to give him time. Clark hasn’t featured at all this season; his playing time during pre-season seems a long time ago now. Both came in at the last minute to fill in and, even though they are active members of the squad and should be ready to play when called upon, they were playing against an Arsenal side that came to Villa Park to prove a point, after an almost embarrassing defeat mid-week.
We later found out that other players were also feeling sick and played on, namely Brad Guzan, Fabian Delph and Andi Weimann, who had to be taken off at half time because he was physically sick.
To be honest, my opinion on the game is that, as a team, the lads actually did well to keep Arsenal at bay in the first half an hour. Watching the game back, I’m sure Arsenal fans were probably worried that we were on the verge of doing to them what we had done to Liverpool. The players who were affected by the bug were probably still running on adrenaline at that point – but then the inevitable happened. The Gunners seem to have a very good record at Villa Park so the result was probably fair. I would have loved to have seen what could have happened if all our players were fit and raring to go.
It’s a setback, no doubt about it, and, with Chelsea next on the fixture list, I am a little worried about how our players will cope after (hopefully) recovering from the illness. With a bit of luck, our important players, such as Ron Vlaar and Ashley Westwood, will be back in action. With the Belgian Beast, Christian Benteke, on his way back to full fitness, it’s an exciting time for Aston Villa Football Club and its fans alike. The players should put the last game down to a one-off stroke of bad luck and come back as strong as they’ve looked in recent weeks.
Up The Villa!