“He’s backing them!”
That was the reaction amongst the Villa press pack in the media room underneath the Emirates last Friday and, within minutes, Dean Smith’s backing of his players simply blew up in his face.
Last week ahead of Arsenal, the boss insisted nothing was wrong. Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins were scoring goals for him, he said, and the Wolves collapse ‘wasn’t a collapse’ but a ‘freak’ five minutes with Ruben Neves’s deflected winner described as “a random goal”.
The manager was then asked whether the Arsenal match would be a mentality test for his players, to which he bluntly replied: “I think the mentality is not there to be questioned.”
Smith added: “We will get what we deserve at the end of the season. If we play like we did for the majority of the (Wolves) game we will be fine. I have to be consistent in my analysis of the team and performance.
***Watch our video below: Villa players let Dean Smith down big style last week***
“If it is a performance where I feel we deserve to be beaten then I’ll have more concerns than when it is a performance where we don’t deserve to be beaten.”
It was all a bit wishy-washy as Smith fired some metrics back at reporters, saying: “We have had eight games this season and, in 7.9 of those games, we have only conceded one set piece goal which was a second phase against Brentford. In 0.1 of a game we have conceded three goals, which is a train running down a track.”
But to last week’s first-half horror show and Smith’s squad of players had no answer to Arsenal’s onslaught. Tyrone Mings kept shaking his head, John McGinn lost his head and so did many more who simply wilted amidst the barrage of pressure by those in red and white.
Smith, 50, wanted those in navy blue to prove a point, yet it went the polar opposite way the boss intended after he named the exact same starting XI despite the alarming manner of that Wolves defeat just six days previous.
Here’s what I put to the boss after what was a humiliating first-half performance from those he entrusted to hit back.
You backed your players to the hilt yesterday at the conference. Did they let you down today, to be blunt?
“They didn’t let me down,” Smith said, shaking his head. “They let themselves down in that first half. I didn’t expect that. That was the XI players who were 2-0 up against Wolves.
“We had three enforced changes (vs Wolves) and a five-minute madness spell where we threw the game away.
“But, certainly, I can question the application in the first half given the fact we didn’t compete well enough. We didn’t look strong physically. That has to be a mindset when you see them compete physically in the second half of the game.”
So it does point to the mindset and questionable mentality of his players after all.
It’s down to the group selected on Sunday now to respond, as they have done following defeats against Watford and Chelsea previously this season.
The last time Villa lost four on the spin was when Smith’s job was on the line following a battering in the rain at Leicester before lockdown, in effect, saved him.
There was also a stinging last-gasp 3-2 defeat in amongst that run (vs Spurs) as well as damaging losses against Bournemouth and Southampton.
This time it’s different though while, with Leon Bailey fit again, there’s a real sense of belief Smith and Villa can arrest the slump they’re in.
After letting the gaffer down last week, it’s time for the players to step up, starting against West Ham this coming Sunday where a raucous and expectant Villa Park crowd will be right behind them from the get-go.
However, should the boss fail to get a response once again then you can only but worry.
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