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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Aston Villa: Are there small signs Christian Benteke and Villa have woken up?

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It’s been another pretty dire season at Villa Park and another home defeat by Arsenal will not have changed how most fans view the campaign so far.

But at least on Monday night there was a flicker of hope the side might actually fight for some sort of respectability before the season fizzles out.

The Gunners may have looked like they were playing in a friendly match for large quantities of the game, but for the final 20 minutes Villa finally showed they could compete if they just believed in their own ability.

The cross from Matthew Lowton to Christian Benteke may not have seemed a huge deal in the grand theme of things, but it was the first time that combination, which had proved so effective for Villa last year, had actually produced a goal this season.

BentekeWhat was even stranger was how a switch seemed to be flicked on in Benteke’s head and he suddenly started chasing the ball down, holding the ball up and looking like he could score an equaliser. It took 70 minutes for it to happen, but we got a glimpse of the player we had last year.

The fact the Belgian had scored six goals this time last season – the same as he has this campaign - before going to be bang in another 13 before the final game, could bode well for Villa.

With an injured Libor Kozak, an out of favour Nicklas Helenius, a League One player in Jordan Bowery and the addition of Grant Holt on loan, who has struggled at Wigan, as the only other central attacking options, we need Benteke to find form quickly.

We also need the majority of Villa’s squad to move up at least two gears because some of the passing, control, movement, defending and shooting this season has been laughable.

The fans have got on the players' backs when they have underachieved to such a level many are considering not coming back next year.

However, at the same time, the same fans applauded the players off at the end of Monday night’s game, despite seeing their team lose at home for the eighth time in all competitions this season.

The team were still booed off at half time after another calamitous passage of play saw the side throw anyway slight chance they had of getting a result from game.

But just 20 minutes of decent second half action should have proved to the players that if they try the supporters will cheer them on.

The problems are there for everyone to see and against Arsenal, for long periods of the game, it was simply a case of their players being a lot better than ours.

It’s every fan’s right to get frustrated by such circumstances but it’s harsh to get angry with the players.

When the players are not even performing to their own ability that’s when it becomes too much to bear and unfortunately that has been the story at Villa Park once again for the majority of this season.

And yet, with 20 minutes to go, the side seemed to wake up out of its coma – it really was like they all suddenly realised, if they played with a bit a passion and played the ball around with a bit of pace, they could perhaps cause Arsenal a few problems.

Lo-and-behold, after some decent football and a decent cross, Benteke broke his 11-game duck and Villa looked like they could salvage a more than unlikely draw.

The fact the side resorted to pumping the ball into the box for the last 10 minutes, which as usual brought absolutely no joy whatsoever, is another matter, because from a fan’s point of view it was just great to see a bit of passion and fight.

Another of Villa’s biggest issues this year has been how they have performed against the lower league sides.

No-one expects them to pick up too many points against the top seven teams, but they seem to base their performances on whoever they are playing against.

It’s the reason the side haven’t been on the end of an 8-0 humiliation, yet, like they were last season because against the better the sides the team seems to raise its game.

Manager Paul Lambert has said on numerous occasions, like he did following the Arsenal game, if his team plays like they did for the final 20 minutes they would have nothing to worry about. No-one would argue with that – what they would argue with is whether this Villa side is actually capable of playing their best football when it matters most. They did it towards the end of last season and it’s what saved them in the end from relegation.

Benteke’s goals were a huge part of that success but the performance of the whole squad cannot be underestimated.

The final 20 minutes against Arsenal cannot be seen as more than a small glimmer of hope, but maybe, just maybe, this Villa side will use it as a platform to start believing in themselves, start scoring and start fighting their way towards safety.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Villa fans: Do you believe those final 20 minutes against Arsenal will have given the players a lift heading in to this weekend's away trip to Anfield? Are you confident Villa will beat the drop? And is Paul Lambert still the right man for the job? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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