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Nakamba outshines Gunners’ £85m pairing

EYES ON THE BALL . . . Zimbabwe international midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba, shows great concentration, and technique, as he clears the ball during Aston Villa’s impressive 1-0 victory over Arsenal in an English Premiership match at Villa Park on Saturday where the Warriors star won more tackles than any other player on the pitch. — Villa

Ashley Preece
Special Correspondent
BIRMINGHAM. — Twenty passes attempted, 11 passes completed, six tackles attempted, six tackles won, five ball recoveries and two clearances.

Add to that an interception and winning more tackles than any other player on the pitch.

Those are the impressive numbers for Zimbabwe international midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba, as the Aston Villa man overshadowed Arsenal’s £85 million pairing in Saturday’s 1-0 victory in the English Premiership.

I owe Nakamba a bit of an apology here, for dishing out a mediocre 6.5/10 in my player ratings, in the immediate aftermath of the sweet victory.

I was imploring the Zimbabwean to have a really good game knowing he was harshly dropped, after his previous start against Newcastle.

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However, the midfielder started tentatively and was desperate to impress.

What stuck out was the fact he dallied on the ball, got robbed by Thomas Partey and then fouled Bukayo Saka for his yellow card.

Nakamba then improved ten-fold after that and won six tackles, more than anyone on the pitch while Arsenal’s holding midfielders of Partey and Granit Xhaka, made one tackle between them.

The duo cost £85 million!

As for £11 million man Nakamba, it’s now three clean sheets from his three starts this season against Burnley, Newcastle and Arsenal, which just underlines his importance to Dean Smith and Villa.

The underrated Zimbabwean is something different as well, compared to others in the squad, and was the perfect fit for Saturday’s battle with Arsenal.

Well played, Nakamba.

Smith’s Tactical Masterclass

Villa boss Smith appears to have got his opposite number Mikel Arteta — was Smith’s third straight victory over Arteta’s Arsenal with an aggregate score of 5-0 across 270 minutes of football.

As for Smith, he silenced a few critics on Saturday with supporters and pundits alike critical of the boss for continually playing the same core of players, while refusing to blame tiredness for Wednesday’s setback against West Ham.

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“It’s easy to talk about fatigue,” Smith explained. “I believe it wasn’t that, mentally or physically. The numbers weren’t showing that. They’ve gone and proved today that they can handle the number of games.”

Now what Saturday proved was Smith knowing his players inside out. He offered “the cherry” of a couple of days off if Villa won with his squad putting in another incredible shift as Smith got the response he was looking for.

Villa, meanwhile, were the last team to contest a midweek fixture on Wednesday night (8.15pm) before being called upon for the 12.30pm game on Saturday.

Can you imagine Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola if that happened to them?

The pair would be crying bloody murder.

Not Smith, though, who instead challenged his players to bounce back rather than protect them by playing the ‘hectic schedule’ card which would have been the easy thing to do.

Arsenal had an extra days’ rest, too.

Smith deserves immense credit for his decision-making this season and nailed it once more on Saturday.

He got his selection right from the off with Nakamba performing well while his substitutes were bang on the money with Jacob Ramsey adding energy and a newness in midfield while Trezeguet dug deep to help Matty Cash knowing Arsenal were coming on strong down their left with Saka and Pepe.

Huge kudos to Smith here who, for the record, is a much, much better manager than Arteta.

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Watkins should break Benteke’s

 19-goal record

The final point I want to make is the fact Watkins proved his worth once more.

“Dream to have him in front of me, only going to get better,” was Jack Grealish’s social media comment after Villa highlighted Watkins had taken just 21 games to get to double figures. At Exeter it took him 32 appearances to reach that number while, for previous club Brentford, it was 34 with Watkins now on 87 goals from 245 career appearances.

“Every week we’re speaking very well of his performance because that’s what he brings to the team,” Smith said of his main man, a player he went all-out to get in the summer for a club-record — and well-spent — £28 million.

“He’s selfless in terms of his work rate.

The players all endear him, he’s such a good footballer but a good teammate as well.

“There’s no surprise from me that he’s got to double figures in the Premier League already. The football Brentford were playing last season was Premier League football so I knew he was ready to come in.”

Smith was told how Watkins was the best striker on the pitch on Saturday with Arsenal chucking on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the disappointing Alexandre Lacazette, with the latter’s best Premier League return being 14 after his £47 million move from Lyon in 2017.

Former Weston-super-Mare striker Watkins should smash that this season while he’ll have eyes on beating Aubameyang’s 22-goal record in his last two concurrent seasons.

Watkins, though, should have Christian Benteke’s 19-goal haul in his sights from 2012/2013 knowing 20 goals would represent an outrageous first season in the top flight.

When players such as Grealish are labelling you “a dream” knowing he’s worked with Harry Kane and Co recently then you’re onto a winner. Watkins for England, anyone?

Arteta talking nonsense

“We dominated the game and dominated every department,” was Arteta’s ill-judged assessment of his side’s 1-0 defeat.

Now three shots on target compared to Villa’s eight doesn’t sound like “dominating the game” to me.

Arsenal were sloppy from the off and Arteta’s comments in his post-match mirrored his side’s sloppiness.

Other than Martin Odegaard’s glaring miss it was Villa who dominated in terms of fashioning big chances with Bertrand Traore’s dinked finish sticking out.

l Ashley Preece is BirminghamLive’s Aston Villa Club writer and was inside Villa Park for Villa’s 11th win of the season on Saturday.

HERALD