The Christmas period is notoriously one of the most decisive stages of the Premier League season. Whilst most of us are taking time out to relax and enjoy the festive season, footballers are preparing themselves for an action packed schedule that could make or break their season. The Christmas fixtures are important for every Premier League club however Aston Villa arguably have the most vital run of matches as they ready themselves for clashes with both Arsenal and Liverpool in the space of two days.
Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa side have begun this season in style and are currently the in-form side in the Premier League. They appear the most likely to break the monopoly that is the ‘big four’ and are just two points behind second placed Manchester United. Their impressive start to the season has been prided upon victories over their Champions League rivals, having beaten Chelsea at home and both Manchester United and Liverpool away.
Villa have gone on a run that has seen them win their last four Premier League games. Confidence is at an all time high at Villa Park and the Midlands club have left themselves in good stead to face the busy Christmas schedule. One of Villa’s in-form players, the recently returned Stewart Downing believes that Villa have their competition running scared, having impressed with recent results. Downing stated:
“It is two big tests but the confidence is flying at the moment with the way the team is playing. The team have proved they can do well against the big teams. We are not fearing anyone we play at the moment, and those teams [Arsenal and Liverpool] will be aware we have punished the top sides. We won’t sit back. I think the manager likes us to get forward and get goals.”
Downing and Villa stretched their unbeaten run to 7 league games with Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Stoke and they will certainly be feeling more prepared that an Arsenal side who lack a striker and a Liverpool side who lack, well everything. The victory against Stoke, although ugly, will also add further confidence to Martin O’Neill’s side. In order to achieve in the Premier League you need to get results when you don’t play well and coupled with a bit of luck, that’s exactly what O’Neill’s side did on Saturday. They will undoubtedly need to perform better against Arsenal and Liverpool in the coming week, but the continuation of a winning run will certainly benefit their confidence.
Villa will also be boosted by the news today that striker Emile Heskey’s groin strain is not as serious as first thought. Heskey limped off after just 24 minutes against the Potters on Saturday yet will be available for the second of the Christmas fixtures. Heskey is a player, like James Milner, who has been in stunning form recently. The pair have provided Martin O’Neill with goals and inspired performances in the last few weeks and no side will be looking forward to facing the them. Add to this the form of the resurgent Richard Dunne and you have the foundations of a solid and successful side.
Last season’s fixture at the Emirates brought Villa one of their highlights of the season as they emerged 2-0 winners having thoroughly outplayed Arsene Wenger’s side. However Martin O’Neill has warned his side of complacency, and not to let disappointing results knock them off their stride. Last season a series of poor results all but saw Villa drop out of the Champions League race and O’Neill is cautious and wants to avoid a repeat season. He said:
“The same thing might happen again, we are on a decent run but the Premier League is very unforgiving. You are going along nicely, you win a couple of games but then you pick up a couple of injuries, lose a game and want to know where the next win is coming from. I think it’s very much the case of same again. We are hanging in but we’re playing well, with plenty of confidence. We are managing to win games when we go behind and when we get in front too.”
Villa have an intelligent head on their shoulders with the seasoned O’Neill at the helm and there is no doubt that he will use the experience of last season’s failure to drive his side on this term. The next week will be very interesting in determining Villa’s season but what may be even more important are the weeks that follow.
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