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OLLIE Watkins and Leon Bailey might have claimed the spotlight by scoring both goals in Aston Villa’s stunning 2-0 away win over Arsenal, but John McGinn was the driving force behind their performance. This has been the case in a lot of Villa matches this season and yet the Scot doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.

McGinn was outstanding against Arsenal. While his midfield partner Youri Tielemens might have posed more of an attacking threat, it was the Scotland international who made Villa so difficult to play through. Nobody on the pitch made more interceptions or tackles than McGinn. His physicality was key.

In possession, McGinn was also extremely effective, releasing Aston Villa on the counter-attack when he had the opportunity. Only Emi Martinez made more accurate passes than the 29-year-old at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. McGinn was comfortable against Arsenal’s high press and excellent at passing out from the back. He embodied a lot of what Unai Emery wanted to see from his team.

Emery recognises the importance of McGinn to Villa. Against Arsenal, the Scot played as one half of a deep-lying midfield duo next to Tielemens, but this season has largely seen him operate in a more advanced position. This has resulted in McGinn improving his attacking numbers – six goals and four assists in the Premier League this season.

“He is competitive, he always is ready to play, physically as well,” said Emery about McGinn. “I think when he is not training or playing he is resting – his energy always is full. He is a very good example, of how he is consistent and trying to help and to be an example, a very good example for players. I really, really appreciate a lot as a person how he is, but as a professional, he is fantastic.”

Watkins, as the second-top scorer in the Premier League, has enjoyed a special season, but nobody at Villa Park truly reflects Emery’s approach and ideology as a coach like McGinn. He plays with intensity on both sides of the ball. He has natural defensive instincts, but also the ability to play forward. McGinn is a two-way player just as Aston Villa under Emery are a two-way team.

In his current role, McGinn is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. It’s confusing that he isn’t more widely appreciated. McGinn himself has some ideas on why that might be, pointing out his unusual running style and frame. “I don’t think anyone runs the way I do,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has a backside the size of mine.”

There are more technically accomplished and stylish midfielders in the Premier League, but McGinn’s output is as strong as anyone’s. The Scotland international ranks in the top three percent for successful take-ons in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues this season and in the top five percent for progressive passing.

Aston Villa have been one of the storylines of the season in the Premier League this term. They are on course to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League having enjoyed a sustained period of consistency under Emery. This would give them a platform to continue building into next season. The future is bright at Villa Park.

If indeed Aston Villa do end up in the Champions League, McGinn will have played a significant role in getting them there. He sets the tone for Villa in so many different ways, both as a player and a character. There’s a reason he is Emery’s club captain – and there’s a reason he has been a mainstay of the Aston Villa team this season. McGinn doesn’t need universal acclaim when he’s this effective.


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