Aston Villa went into the break two-nil down against Arsenal on Friday night, following a fortuitous rebound from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s initial effort from the penalty spot. The 3-5-2 system was clearly ineffective in this fixture and Dean Smith needed to change something, quickly.
He chose to replace substitute Axel Tuanzebe for Leon Bailey and shift his side from a back five into a back four. A change which saw an immediate impact as Villa instantly looked more organised and more threatening whilst going forward.
Bailey was a key part in this. His pace, trickery and quality on the ball seemed to cause problems for Arsenal as Villa looked to be gaining momentum at the beginning of the second half.
Within the first ten minutes of play, Villa had almost tripled their touches in Arsenal’s penalty area and had recorded three shots on goal compared to their tally of zero in the first half.
Everyone will be well aware as to what followed. Emile Smith Rowe glided up the pitch and his effort deflected and sadly wrong-footed Emiliano Martinez, who had no hope of keeping Villa’s hopes alive in this fixture.
The game had sadly escaped Villa through a series of unfortunate errors and possibly starting the game in the wrong formation. It was too little, too late. This didn’t stop Bailey looking bright, however. Villa fans can take the small positive of his performance, although suppressed due to the scoreline, in this game.
He recorded 28 touches of the ball, with his most notable being his assist for Jacob Ramsey’s first Premier League goal. He has an innate ability to drive past defenders and his pace was useful here as he got to the ball first and poked it in the direction of the young English midfielder.
That was Bailey’s second assist in a Villa shirt, and he may be considered unlucky to not be credited with more than that, given the fact it was his corner which led to Lucas Digne guiding the ball into his own net.
To go along with his assist, Bailey recorded two shots, two long balls completed, ten duels and was fouled twice. Villa looked a greater threat with him on the pitch in the 4-3-3 formation and fans will be hoping they see much more of this moving forward.
Bailey’s performance was discussed on the latest episode of the Claret & Blue podcast where Mat Kendrick stated: “Leon Bailey came on and was decent, if most of his teammates were 4/10 he was a 6/10. You have to have a system that fits him in there. You have to work harder to fit him into that system than you have Ings and Watkins both in as a pair.”
A link to the podcast can be found below.
Villa now face West Ham United on Sunday and Dean Smith will be keen to ensure his side’s reaction is a polar opposite to the one he witnessed at the Emirates following the defeat to Wolves. Bailey could be key in ensuring the Villa fans see a completely different performance in the clash against David Moyes’ side.