It’s difficult to underplay the impact that Unai Emery has had since he arrived at Aston Villa, such has been the transformation under him thus far.
When Villa decided to sack Steven Gerrard in October, we had won just two of our 11 opening games of the Premier League season and were languishing close to the relegation zone.
While there were obvious short-term concerns, the ongoing absence of any real identity or style of play ensured there was a sustained sense of anxiety over where Villa were going under him, and so ultimately the club rightly decided that a change was necessary.
There was an immediate bounce with Aaron Danks temporarily in charge, as that short spell showed signs of the potential within a squad that badly needed a higher level of coaching to develop and improve it. In came Emery in November, and it has been an entirely different story for the most part.
Admittedly, the disappointment in the cup competitions was a significant setback, but to an extent, also an expected bump in the road as the Spanish tactician looks to implement his ideas and stamp his mark on the group while assessing who will and who won’t be part of his plans moving forward.
However, it’s been an excellent start in the Premier League with five wins in seven games, three consecutive away wins while we’re unbeaten in our last four since the turn of the year having collected 16 points from a possible 21.
Again, there have been setbacks with the defeat to Liverpool and draw with Wolves, but there were positives to take from both those games too as we have shown a big improvement under Emery’s stewardship.
So the first major impact is the influence his coaching has had on our development and progression in a short space of time.
Villa have a +5 goal difference in those seven league games, as we’ve shown improvement in both phases of the game. From our high defensive line, discipline and organisation off the ball to become harder to break down, to playing out from the back and showing more patience, control and composure but with an ability to be more incisive and speed our passing up in the final third to break teams down.
The offensive side of the ball still needs improvement, and Emery would likely concede that things can be better defensively too, and that brings us perfectly on to the second elite quality that he has brought to Villa – his unwavering and relentless desire to improve and do more.
“I’m very proud of our work,” he told Villa TV, after our win over Southampton on Saturday. “We deserved it because the players’ work was fantastic. We are so happy with what we are doing. We are being so, so competitive and taking points after we had been in the bottom [of the table].
“I want to improve. I want to do better. I want to be demanding with the players and continue working to improve.
“We are doing it step-by-step and the players are responding well.”
Emery is rightly refusing to rest on our upturn form to date, as although we’ve removed ourselves from the pack at the wrong end of the table, it’s now time to start looking up and thinking about what we can achieve this season.
Personally, this campaign still feels a little bit like a free hit. Emery is still implementing his philosophy and moulding the squad into his own with incomings and outgoings which will require time, but we will gladly welcome short-term success this year, whether that’s a top-half finish or more.
However, the most exciting thing about what we’ve seen thus far is that there is a real sense that Villa are putting together a long-term, sustainable project under Emery. One that will see us develop and assemble a squad with clear principles and an identity that can be built upon with new arrivals to ensure there is a gradual progression towards becoming a top team.
There are countless variables that can knock that ideology off course and so if we can compete and achieve a European qualification spot this season, we should be all in for it. That will strengthen belief and confidence in what Emery is looking to do at Villa, and hopefully what we’ve seen so far is just the start of a journey that leads us to success in the coming years.
5 wins in 7 PL games ✅
Three consecutive away wins ✅
Unbeaten in last four ✅
16 points from possible 21 ✅
“I want to improve. I want to do better. I want to be demanding with the players & continue working to improve." 👊🏽🟣🔵
— Talk Villa (@thetalkvilla) January 22, 2023