Time for Smith to ditch Villa’s 3-5-2 and shelve Watkins-Ings attack

Aston Villa prepare for a trip to Arsenal on Friday and Dean Smith has big decisions to make for that encounter at the Emirates.

It comes off the back of our damaging defeat to Wolves this past weekend as we threw away a two-goal lead and a great chance of securing three points, in a result that could potentially have a lasting impact on us.

READ MORE: Emi Buendia shows positive signs as influence grows in impressive Villa display

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With that in mind, it’s important that we produce a big reaction later this week to quickly put that bitterly disappointing result firmly behind us, but it starts with Smith making important calls on how he sets his Villa side up for the clash.

Return to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system

The 3-5-2 formation has served its purpose and had varying degrees of success. While we claimed a huge win at Old Trafford against Man Utd with it and eventually blew Everton away at home, we’ve also now suffered defeats to Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea.

It has its strengths and positive aspects, particularly in certain games and against specific opposition, and Arsenal away could arguably fall within that criteria.

However, it’s leading to too many disappointing moments and its weaknesses and vulnerabilities have been exposed to an extent, and so it’s time we became more proactive, used the quality at our disposal and be more positive.

Naturally though, this depends heavily on who’s fit and available for Friday. As we wait for news on both Leon Bailey and Bertrand Traore this week, if we have two wingers available with Emiliano Buendia included in that group to play a 4-3-3 system or a similar variation, it’s time to tweak things.

Lead with Watkins again

A big part of Villa’s success last season was Ollie Watkins. Aside from his 16 goals, he provided five assists in 40 appearances across all competitions, and his pressing and energy from the front was an influential aspect of how we were able to be so good on and off the ball.

With just one goal and no assists in six outings so far this season, we’ve seen the 25-year-old really struggle to date, and while his injury in pre-season certainly didn’t help matters, this system is not working for him.

Watkins is more effective as a focal point up top with others working around him, allowing him to lead the press and to get into dangerous positions off the ball. He seems lost as we try to find a balance with Danny Ings beside him, and while our summer signing has bagged three goals and two assists in eight games thus far, Smith has to be brave and do what’s best for the team.

Again, a lot depends on Bailey and Traore, because as soon as the former is fit and available to start, there surely has to be no doubt that we go with two wingers as Buendia operates on the opposite flank, with the pair supporting Watkins as the spearhead of our attack.