Soccer

From relegation candidates to title contenders – Unai Emery’s impact at Villa

Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win at home (Nick Potts/PA)
Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win at home (Nick Potts/PA) Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win at home (Nick Potts/PA)

Aston Villa are just two points off the Premier League summit after their victory over Arsenal on Saturday.

Not only did Villa boss Unai Emery get one over his former club but the 1-0 triumph saw his side extend their winning league run at home to 15 games.

Emery and his players are not entertaining talk of a surprise title run but, here, the PA news agency looks at how Villa are defying the odds to fight at the top of the table.

What impact has Emery had?

When Emery was chosen to replace Steven Gerrard in the Villa Park hotseat last November, the club were among the sides that could have been dragged into a relegation battle. The Spaniard, however, turned things around and Villa finished the season in seventh, qualifying for the Europa Conference League. This season, things have improved even more, and since Emery’s arrival he has overseen 26 wins from his 41 Premier League games in charge.

Who has shone under Emery?

Ollie Watkins has been in deadly form in front of goal
Ollie Watkins has been in deadly form in front of goal Ollie Watkins has been in deadly form in front of goal (Jacob King/PA)

Any team wanting to compete towards the top of the table is likely to need a prolific goalscorer – and Villa can call on Ollie Watkins as the man to consistently find the back of the net. Emery can again lay claim to helping the England striker improve his output and the 27-year-old has hit eight Premier League goals this season, while also laying on six assists. Watkins has also seemingly taken the spot as back-up to Harry Kane in the England squad and he will be keen to continue his club form in the hopes of heading to Euro 2024 next summer.

Anyone else?

Emiliano Martinez was crowned as the best goalkeeper at the World Cup and since the top stopper in the world
Emiliano Martinez was crowned as the best goalkeeper at the World Cup and since the top stopper in the world Emiliano Martinez was crowned the best goalkeeper at the World Cup (Nick Potts/PA)

Several players inherited by Emery have improved under the Spaniard – the likes of Ezri Konsa, John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and the aforementioned Watkins, for example. Villa also added Pau Torres, Youri Tielemans and Moussa Diaby in the summer with the trio playing their part in helping Emery’s side make improvements. Emery can also call on World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez, who was also crowned the world’s best goalkeeper at the Ballon D’Or ceremony last month.

Hitting a home run

Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win at home
Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win at home Aston Villa fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win at home (Nick Potts/PA)

Villa have won all 15 of their Premier League home games since losing 4-2 to Arsenal in February. It is a club-record run that has turned them into, at this stage of the season, bona fide title contenders. In the space of four days, Villa beat reigning champions Manchester City and last season’s runners-up Arsenal to show they can mix it with the best the league has to offer.

What are their festive fixtures like?

Erik ten Hag and his inconsistent Manchester United side await Villa on Boxing Day
Erik ten Hag and his inconsistent Manchester United side await Villa on Boxing Day Erik ten Hag and his inconsistent Manchester United side await Villa on Boxing Day (Martin Rickett/PA)

Villa have a great chance to further extend their winning home run as relegation-threatened pair Sheffield United and Burnley are next up at Villa Park. A trip to Brentford on Sunday follows the final game of their Europa Conference League group, where they travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina to take on Zrinjski Mostar knowing a point is enough to progress as group winners. They then face a Boxing Day trip to Manchester United but, with Old Trafford no longer the fortress it once was, Villa will fancy their chances.