By Anthony Onifade

23rd Oct, 2023 | 3:10pm

Nicolo Zaniolo walking on thin ice at Aston Villa after West Ham display, Unai Emery has decision to make v AZ Alkmaar

Unai Emery has a critical Aston Villa decision to make for Thursday’s crucial Europa League clash against AZ Alkmaar and that involves Nicolo Zaniolo after his struggles continued in the win over West Ham.

The Villans continued their fine form under Emery by holding off West Ham in a rampant 4-1 win to move back to the brink of the Premier League’s top four on 19 points from nine games.

Two goals from Douglas Luiz and strikes from Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey late on meant Aston Villa recorded their 11th straight victory at Villa Park to continue their stunning upward trajectory under the Spaniard.

Before Emery’s first game in charge, Villa were 16th in the Premier League – one point off the relegation zone. But he steered them to European qualification last season and now they are back within a point of the Champions League places after Sunday’s win.

While the West Ham United win will certainly boost confidence even greater at Villa Park, the Villans will now be having a keen eye on high-flying Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar who will certainly take no prisoners when Emery’s men visit on Thursday (26 October).

The Dutch club are riding high in the Eredivisie so far this season, sitting second on the table after winning eight of their nine games so far, drawing the other.

For what will be a highly engrossing tactical battle at the AFAS stadium, Emery could be set to make some crucial key changes, not least potentially axing Zaniolo who saw his struggles continue on Sunday.

As per SofaScore, Despite recording a reasonable 86 per cent pass success rate, the Italy international had just 35 touches of the ball, lost 100% of his aerial duels, failed to register a key pass despite his advanced half-space positions on the pitch, lost possession of the ball seven times and failed to record a single shot on target also.

The 24-year-old has endured a rather difficult spell since his summer loan move, only showing flashes of his brilliance despite being handed regular starts by Emery.

Given the high expectations now placed on the Villans after their stunning form this season, the Spaniard will be looking for consistency in every one of his players as they approach a critical stage in their season post-Christmas period.

With Bailey showcasing some form and confidence after his stunning effort for Aston Villa’s fourth against West Ham, Zaniolo is now walking on thin ice with Emery set to make a critical decision for Thursday’s pivotal encounter.

It won’t be a surprise to see Bailey start the game.

In other Aston Villa news, a Villa youngster could be one to watch following his “exceptional” progress.