John McGinn: The Underrated Star in Dean Smith's Enterprising Aston Villa Team

James Cormack
John McGinn appears an underrated spoke in Dean Smith's impressive Aston Villa side
John McGinn appears an underrated spoke in Dean Smith's impressive Aston Villa side / James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

On 22 September 2019, a John McGinn masterclass at the Emirates was overshadowed by the simple fact that his side succumbed to a 3-2 defeat.

The diminutive Scot had put the Villans 1-0 up in the opening period, ghosting in-behind Arsenal's onwatching defence before coolly converting Trezeguet's teasing cross, setting the precedent for an all-encompassing midfield display defined by technique, tenacity and freakish energy.

The Scotsman opened the scoring in an eventual 3-2 defeat at the Emirates last September
The Scotsman opened the scoring in an eventual 3-2 defeat at the Emirates last September / Michael Steele/Getty Images

If it wasn't for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's impressive winner in the dying embers, there's little doubting who would've been considered the finest performer on the Emirates turf that day.

14 months later, however, McGinn returned to north London with his Aston Villa side looking to recover from back-to-back defeats in which they'd surrendered seven goals.

An emphatic 3-0 victory would follow for the visitors, with McGinn once again exceptional.

On this occasion, though, such was the imperious nature of his side's performance and the scintillating individual displays within, the 26-year-old's superb showing was once again overlooked as Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley and Ollie Watkins were rightly lauded in the aftermath of their demolition job.

Nevertheless, while McGinn's September 2019 display was kick-started by netting the game's opener, this time it was the turn of one of the more inexplicable VAR interventions to provoke McGinn's brilliance. The Scot's strike within the opening minute was chalked off after Barkley was deemed to have been obstructing Bernd Leno's view as the midfielder's 300mph rocket from 12 yards flew past the German before he could squeal 'nein!' at his porous backline.

It was a scandalous decision but the sequence nonetheless portrayed the distinct threat posed by a buoyed Villans outfit.

In the end, Mikel Arteta's formulaic Gunners proved no match for Dean Smith's fluid Villa, while summer signing Thomas Partey looked to escape McGinn's midfield supremacy by scampering off at the break with a 'thigh issue'.

Mohamed Elneny was brought back to reality after impressing at Old Trafford
Mohamed Elneny was brought back to reality after impressing at Old Trafford / James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Only joking, Gooners. We know the Ghanaian was actually injured and won't be linking up with the national team this month as a result.

Nevertheless, as Arsenal looked - that's all they did - to create via Arteta's meticulous positional play, a free-spirited Villa were creating at a canter with McGinn functioning as the Duracell Bunny alongside Douglas Luiz in the double pivot - a new role for the Scotland international this term amid Smith's switch to a 4-2-3-1.

McGinn would register three key passes - topped only by the irresistible Barkley (six) - and complete the most dribbles on the pitch (four). His perhaps sub-par defensive numbers - one tackle and no interceptions - meanwhile, didn't take into account the diligence with which he performed his role out of possession.

Alongside the similarly impressive Luiz, McGinn's shrewd protection of space and astute starvation of passing routes into the central and half-spaces forced Arsenal to penetrate in wide areas.

""He has to be one of my best ever signings.”"

Steve Bruce, former Aston Villa manager

As he did at the Emirates on his previous visit, McGinn's remarkable ability to function with the utmost intensity for the entirety of the contest seemed to overwhelm the Gunners midfield. And while he did offer the rare 'heart attack' moment in possession, McGinn's capacity to wriggle out of tight spaces and remain unfazed in the face of heavy pressure helped contribute to an efficient and enterpising display overall with the ball.

The Scot's impressive big-game showing at the weekend supports Grealish's notion that: "You want Ginny [McGinn] on the pitch next to you during all the big games because he’s that good."

Grealish was one of the few beneficiaries of McGinn's midfield magic on Sunday, just like he was in Villa's astounding 7-2 defeat of Liverpool last month. The 26-year-old's deflected strike handed his side a 3-1 lead before his perfectly directed pass in-behind Trent Alexander-Arnold helped Villa to their seventh and Grealish's fifth goal contribution of the contest.

Jack Grealish (R) has labelled McGinn an "unbelievable player"
Jack Grealish (R) has labelled McGinn an "unbelievable player" / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

While McGinn's displays in between the Liverpool and Arsenal routs have certainly been indifferent, there's little doubting just how imperative the Scot is to Dean Smith's new-look Villa.

A long-term ankle injury prevented the wider masses from enjoying more of McGinn last term, but the early indications in 2020/21 suggest the seasoned international is set to unleash the 'unbelievable player' previously denoted by Grealish not only on a frequent basis, but against the very best also.