Looking back at the weekend.
The 2023/24 Premier League campaign is now well underway, and although it has been a slightly mixed start to the year for manager Unai Emery with some inconsistency issues, we continue quietly about our business – seemingly going largely unnoticed by the wider football media industry.
With our 2022/23 form following Emery’s arrival basically putting us into the Champions League spots for that period of the campaign, fans had hoped for a very bright start this year, so the last thing anyone wanted was our heavy opening day defeat to Newcastle United, and we were also pretty comfortably beaten by Liverpool in our trip to Anfield, but amongst the two defeats so far when we were clearly not quite as sharp as we should have been, we have also picked up four good victories over Everton, Burnley, Crystal Palace, and most recently Chelsea, although nobody should be looking at Premier League title odds just yet.
Our return to Europe has been equally as mixed, a very good double header against Scottish side Hibernian, saw a disappointing defeat (albeit with plenty of spirit, if not our real class on show) against Legia Warsaw in Group E of the Europa Conference League proper.
Over all though, despite some hiccups, fans should be positive about the year we will have ahead as the positives far outweigh the negatives, and even the Newcastle game can be partially explained with the injury blows upsetting our pre game plans, and some players definitely marked their own cards on future game times with the Legia showing.
Following the weekend’s clash with Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea side, the main headlines and media talk have mostly been about them given their wild , and largely illogical, spending since new owner Todd Boehly took over the club and whilst some outlets make it sound like they were unfortunate to lose, or at least not take a draw, and Emi Martinez takes centre stage given a couple of his stops, it betrays the fact we had the greater chances on the day, and the far better chances on the day to extend our lead.
The game did not really open up massively after they went down to ten men and Ollie Watkins opened the scoring in the 73rd minute, to register his first league goal of the season, as much as some like to pretend Chelsea were in total control, so Emery was rightly pleased with our efforts on the day – whilst still knowing we can do better.
“I’m very happy for our supporters and for our reaction. We have to separate each competition, and in the Premier League we’re trying to be consistent. We were playing against a top seven team, a candidate to be like Newcastle and Liverpool. We lost those matches not being competitive and today at Chelsea I was very concerned that we needed to be competitive; we needed to face the match trying to be consistent in 90 minutes. We needed to be strong defensively, strong at keeping ball possession and to face them being comfortable and feeling that we could win. Of course, we struggled sometimes and we need the goalkeeper. At the end, we did it. We were very competitive in this match and we played being comfortable defensively and with the ball. At the end we won and I’m very happy for everybody.”
It is a media line we got used to last season and it worked for us as we went about our own business largely unbothered by praise, and we just kept surprising (and infuriating) people as we were not supposed to be quite that good according to those who know the game, and even though we have not hit those heights of consistency just yet, if it worked for us last season, it will work for us this again.
Selecting Martinez in his Team of the Week, Garth Crooks has not really learned.
“The save by Martinez from Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson was so important and at a crucial time in Sunday’s match. Robert Sanchez was also showing good form in the Chelsea goal but was eventually, like so many of his Chelsea team-mates, found wanting when Ollie Watkins’ effort went through his legs from a tight angle at the near post. Watkins shouldn’t be scoring from there. Martinez meanwhile pulled off the save of the match, with Ben Chilwell clean through. The Argentine managed a superb one-handed save that secured Villa the points. When your team is struggling – and Chelsea are – you need your keeper to pull you out of the mire. The only difference on the day between the two teams was the keepers.”
Emi was magnificent once again, but there was a bit more to it than that.