Are Aston Villa Set for a Top-10 Finish on the Back of Arsenal Upset?
While Arsenal seethe over potential refereeing incompetencies, lack of incomings this summer and an enormous list of first-team injuries, Aston Villa are quietly preparing for their next Premier League game.
After turning in a performance nothing short of stunning to claim a priceless 3-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, Paul Lambert has moved to keep his side's feet on the ground and gear up for another examination at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
There has been no extended elation, no clamour to praise each other and no exaggerations, only a quiet "well done" before hitting the drawing board ahead of facing Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.
The situation reeks of expectation, not just that Villa would beat Arsenal on the opening day, but that they also believe they can cause a similar upset in their second fixture of the season.
To the casual fan that seems absurd, but positivity and anticipation has been building at the club all summer in preparation for a situation like this.
In truth, the Villa fans aren't even surprised.
A quick survey before a ball was kicked would reveal the large majority on the fans expecting a top-half finish this season, and an upset at the Emirates only confirms this belief.
It's only one game, but the manner in which it was won, in addition to the way the club have simply taken it in their stride, is indicative of far higher expectations of this group for the 2013-14 season.
It's the same set of players, minus some deadwood, that finished the 2012-13 season in UEFA Europa League form, pulled out key victories—against the likes of Sunderland, Reading, QPR, Stoke and Norwich—and bested both Chelsea and Liverpool for long periods in eventual losses.
Lambert used the summer to add depth, fix the troublesome left-back position and retain key players such as Christian Benteke and Brad Guzan on long-term contracts.
The performance at the Emirates combined direct, pacey counterattacks, spells of possession football and a ruthless taking of chances. Defences are unable to focus their energies on Benteke due to the rapid development of Andi Weimann and the reinvigorated Gabby Agbonlahor.
Agbonlahor was one of three players toward the end of last season who had fans truly excited, and he's picked up right where he left off, quickly becoming the player he always threatened to become.
The question is whether Villa can sustain a season of this, and many will still dismiss Saturday's famous victory due to poor refereeing. The hard work, determination and goal threat won't turn enough heads.
Lambert has a settled group of fantastic individuals at his disposal who have come through the hellfire of an 8-0 loss to Chelsea together.
The summer business was fantastic, but because few were aware of the exotic names the club was pulling in, the deals were largely dismissed—bar Jores Okore, the one name most were familiar with.
The fans know they have a world-class manager in the making who's great with the players and tactically astute. As Villa float to Stamford Bridge aboard cloud nine, there's very few reasons to be downbeat.
Just as Swansea City managed last season with a 5-0 away victory over Queens Park Rangers, Aston Villa will hope the Emirates upset is the springboard for a fantastic campaign.
Given the settled nature of the players and staff, the undoubted quality of key performers and the modest work ethic embedded in the culture, you'd be mad not to, too.
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