International break a welcome sight for Aston Villa after Arsenal defeat

A 1-0 defeat to Arsenal on the eve of another international break was far from ideal for manager Steven Gerrard and his Aston Villa side.

After winning three-straight league matches, Villa dropped a tough 2-1 loss to a more organized West Ham on March 13 but were hopeful of getting back on track at home against Arsenal on March 19.

That didn’t happen, and in fact, Villa had one of their worst performances since Gerrard took charge in November.

Managing an expected goals (xG) rating of just 0.27, Villa’s scoring chances came few and far between. Insistent on waiting for opportunities on the break, it was odd that Gerrard elected not to play with two central forwards, instead employing a 4-3-3 formation.

A resurgent Arsenal side controlled possession and often threatened the Villa goal. The Gunners posted an xG rating of 1.37 and out-shot the hosts 10-8 on the day.

The loss leaves a sour taste in the mouths of supporters on the eve of another international break, but a reset could be good for the side.

CARDIFF, WALES – MARCH 29: Carney Chukwuemeka of England U18 in action during the International Friendly match between Wales U18 and England U18 at Leckwith Stadium on March 29, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

A dozen first-team members are away on international duty, and Gerrard has elected to give those still around extended time off, but after two tough defeats, time away should be seen as a positive.

When things get a little stale, some time and space can bring perspective. Additionally, players away on international assignment have the opportunity to play with other clubs’ players, giving them fresh ideas and experiences.

Villa had been playing well, but the last two matches were a reminder: the club still has a ways to go before they’re challenging for Europe.

And that’s OK.

It’s easy to forget Villa were a meddling Championship side three years ago and nearly relegated less than two years ago.

The signings of Emi Martinez, Philippe Coutinho, and Danny Ings signaled the lofty ambitions of the club’s owners, but just because we’re not yet in the midst of a fight for Europe doesn’t mean we’re not on the right track.

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