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Where are they now: Aston Villa as serious rivals to Arsenal???

By Phil Gregory

It’s so obvious it hardly needs saying: Villa are clearly in a worse state than they were this time twelve months ago.

Barry and Laursen are gone and have clearly not been adequately replaced. When Delph’s signing was announced, I (and I presume most) assumed he’d be a much needed squad depth signing as well as further progress towards O’Neill’s apparent aim to recreate Villa as England B.

Instead, he started the recent game versus Vienna and the season opener versus Wigan, with Steve Sidwell appearing in midfield in the other games. Are either of these two up to Barry’s calibre? Not at all. Personally, I don’t rate Delph any higher than Arsenal’s Lansbury, who perhaps would be receiving more hype had he not been struck down for a season with glandular fever.

Laursen too, was imperious at the back for Villa, and it is no coincidence their form took a turn for the worse when he was injured for the latter parts of the season. Richard Dunne seems almost certain to be unveiled as a Villan soon [and has been since the writing of this article], a man who will go a long way to replacing Laursen.

He had a lot of criticism levelled at him last season, but playing for a team so geared towards attack (some would say unbalanced) can hardly help his form, and it seems strange that both he and Richards suddenly “became” bad players after a mostly excellent 07/08, doesn’t it?

There’s naturally also the issue of numbers with the Villa squad that’s been fairly heavily covered in the media, so I won’t rehash over that. Villa’s exit from Europe will do their league prospects no harm, but I think the supporters would have enjoyed a run in Europe, and any extra revenue streams can hardly be seen as a bad thing.

My final concern for Villa has to be Martin O’Neill himself.  As I touched on earlier, he seems obsessed with collecting overpriced English talents and creating himself an England B team.  Warnock is undoubtedly better than anything he has at left back in his current squad, but is he being bought purely on merit, or is he benefitting from his country of birth?

I thought the same when they bought Shorey (“textbook Villa signing” were my  exact words), and that one hasn’t gone so well. There’s always the argument that domestic signings hit the ground running and have very few issues settling in, but if O’Neill’s going to take his team to the next level, he is going to need to scour the globe for talent, not just the UK.

Overall, I’m putting Villa to finish at 8th this season. I think they’ve lost some quality, and struggled (refused?) to replace it adequately. Squad depth hasn’t been improved on; it seems they’ve gone backwards while other rivals (Spurs and City) have been improving.

How does this compare to Arsenal’s actions over the summer? Well, as we are all aware, we now own a no-nonsense centre back and Vermaelen’s actions have spoken loudly enough on the pitch so I won’t dwell here. There’s always the defensive midfield position, but slowly, since his performance at Stamford Bridge last November, Song has won me over. He plays in a different style to Flamini (whom many Arsenal fans use as the benchmark for our DM position now), offering us an invaluable aerial presence in the centre of the park next to Cesc. He also slots seamlessly into the backline in the event of Gallas’ forward runs (which are brilliant – nobody see to know who should be marking him).

Some fans complained of a lack of depth out wide, with Nasri already out and Rosicky likely to be injured for significant periods throughout the season, but I don’t view this as an area of concern – Theo offers us something on the break, and I don’t agree with the “Diaby can’t play out wide” lobby – his primary position is behind the striker, he can dribble – so what’s so different to playing out wide when needs must? With Adebayor gone, I can see us purchasing Chamakh [oops] (love this guy from spending time in Bordeaux over the summer) to add depth to the strikers positions, but it seems Eduardo’s over his injury problems, and Van Persie has never played as many games as he did last year. If we do, I’m happy, if we don’t I think we’ve got enough up front, Vela’s shown he can step up in his cup appearances, and my mates joke that I think Bendtner is the Second Coming.

My Arsenal-Villa eleven would be then (442 for simplicity):

Friedel

Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy

Arshavin  Song Fabregas Young

Eduardo Van Persie

Bench: Almunia, Carew, Nasri, Milner, Eduardo, Heskey, Petrov.

Almunia has been solid over the last couple of seasons bar recent mishaps, but Friedel is exceptional. I doubt there’ll be any complaints about the back four even from neither the most faithful Villa fan, nor the midfield though Petrov was certainly in my thoughts. Choosing between Eduardo and Carew was tricky; maybe my Arsenal bias shines through a little bit. Not a fan of Agbonlahor at all – too much of a one-dimensional pace merchant for my liking.

Phil Gregory.

20 comments to Where are they now: Aston Villa as serious rivals to Arsenal???

  • IndianGooner

    Villa had a great first half last season, and then because of their smaller squad size, failed in the second half.

    Regarding your line-up, I would take Bendtner over Heskey any day and Denilson over Petrov.

  • Abhishek

    Hi Phil

    Nice article. Just a small problem though. Eduardo is on the bench as well as in team so lets give Bendtner a chance on bench.

  • Armin Medic

    Talking about Villa, they are mirror image of English football, team with good players, caught in quite obsolete kind of play without, real mastermind, player who is “organizer”, player who see ball and game. To overcome it they play predictable, give ball to super fast player and hope he will get enough space to get first in front of goalie, or of course corner kicks where those 2flours players are always treat.
    Even they are very “fast” team, problem is their mobility, and transformation from defense in attack (I guess O’Neil still have to learn how team should transform during game).

    PS
    I would never give advantage to Friedel, I still believe Almunia is much better goalie once when caught alone without support of his teammates.

  • jay

    Aston Villa are the least of our problems this season,you can say what you like about Man City but they are going to push us all the way for fourth place and may even get it.I think the top 3 are set in stone again and i wouldn’t count out the spurs to push for 4th either.We just don’t have strength in depth to cope with injuries,if Gallas or Vermaelen get injured we just have no cover at all or at least none of any quality to come in and before you know it we’re 15 points behind and that’s season over.By the way sorry if that’s a tad depressing but if you don’t improve your squad how on earth can you improve your league position on the season before.I guess we’re just gonna have to trust wenger again.

  • Armin Medic

    Jay, who are top 3? And how can you say it just after 4 games (3 in our case), what is Liverpool depth who are players to replace Skrtel and Caragher, who can replace Vidic and Ferdinand with same quality?
    I could list you player after player on each position and ask you the same question, why by your opinion they are better than their Arsenal counterparts.
    With all respect, Citeh still didn’t play any of their “rivals” and all they by now was much weaker opposition, so you cant even have any clue about their real strength yet.

    Sorry for off topic but I had to respond on this

  • shotta-gunna

    Armin – If this is the same Jay who posts at ACLF, this is a chronic moaner whose Arsenal glass is always half-empty. As far as he is concerned Djourou, Senderos and Sylvester do not exist. Rather we should sign a 20 million defender and park him on the bench to cover for injuries. To hell with the cost; it is only money.

  • Ashley Young to play ahead of Rosicky, Nasri and Walcott? Not a chance in hades.

  • Cape Gooner

    I think an interesting discussion comes out of this as to what is our strongest line up.

    Almunia
    Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy
    Song
    Fabregas Rosicky
    Walcott Van Persie Arshavin

    This would be my choice, but Denilson, Nasri, Eduardo and Bendtner will be included by others.

    Well said Armin Medic. I would fancy our second XI against anyone else in the world’s second XI.

    Fabianski
    Eboue Djourou Senderos Gibbs
    Denilson
    Diaby Nasri
    Eduardo Bendtner Vela

    We still have Silvestre, Traore, Ramsey, Merida and Wilshire up our sleeves. Jay is not only wrong, I submit he is unthinking.

  • ggs

    Seriously, does anyone care about AV? I’m not interested in them at all, except for A.Young’s impending 4 match ban for two dives against Vienna.

  • There is not one single Aston Villa who would make it into Arsenal’s Top 18. Not one.

  • gooner1

    In the Eduardo incident, UEFA cannot possibly determine INTENT. It is simply too tight a margin to say anything. Aside from that, if the ref had given Eduardo a yellow card for “simulation” (instead of a penalty), that would have been the extent of the punishment, the same as for anyone else booked for “simulation”, not a two game ban !! Have any players who were booked for “simulation” that same match day now had their punishment adjusted to two game bans ?? Not that I have heard ……
    TOTALLY INCONSISTENT, not to mention petty & vindictive.

    BTW, has the referee (& the appropriate asst. referee) been suspended for two games as well ?? Or is incompetence now acceptable ?? I believe the burden of proof should be based on “innocent until PROVEN guilty, beyond any reasonable SHADOW of doubt”. Or is it only murderers, rapists, paedophiles, terrorists & their ilk that are protected by the law of the land ??

    The gates of hell have been breached & the demons are free again !!

  • LRV

    Ashley Young had some chances to prove himself in an English (senior) shirt yet for me, he hasn’t. How can I rate him for Arsenal? The potential seem to be there, but unless and until he proves his worth properly, I cannot include him. As for Heskey, there’s no way I will swap any of our forward lines for him. Villa does not interest me much this season.

  • walter

    When Villa bought Heskey in januari I knew they would fall to pieces. Simply because Heskey never made it at a top club. I can remember Allen Hansen creaming his pants when Heskey went to Liverpool and for half an hour on MOTD he praised him up in the sky. So you see how much he knows about football (Hansen that is).

    Heskey is what we call in our country a “gazettespeler”. I don’t know if you got an English expression on this but it means a player who was been made great in the newspapers (or TV these days) but who couldn’t prove it in the games. He once in a while scores a brace in a game, mostly his first games, and then it is over for some 10 games. The day AW would buy Heskey that will be the day I would begin to doubt his mental fitness.

  • walter

    And to Jay I would suggest to sit down and relax a few weeks and come back at the end of october. Round that time we will begin to see how good the teams are.
    Other teams will have played some other top teams and then we shall see.
    Now some teams only have played weak oppositon. We have played the champion, a team that would challege us four 4th place and a weak team. Before the start of the season I would have settled for 4 points up till now. We got 6 so I think it really is a good start.
    And if you think of the MU game… we should have had 9 points.

  • walter

    And a bit off topic but it seems that we could get tickets for the Standard – Arsenal game on 16th september.
    I’m so excited… and I just cant hide it… 😉 sorry but this just seems to good to be true.

  • Phil Gregory

    Cheers for the comments guys, other teams wil be coming soon.

    IndianGooner: Petrov/Denilson is a tricky one for me, there wasn’t much between them at all. I’m also a massive Bendtner fan, who is undoubtedly more technical than Heskey. I felt as a bench option, I wanted Heskey for his pace and strength more than anything, and I’ve always admired the shifts he puts in for England. Maybe a little too sentimental!

    bishek: thanks for pointing that out. That’ll teach me for skimping on the proofreading !

    Jay: Gotta disagree with you there. This “strength in depth” thing is thrown around quite a lot, and I’d say we’re no worse than any of the other top four in that regard bar Chelsea. It seems we underrate our own players, and overrate the oppositions in this repect – United’s midfield, for example, is decidely average once Ronaldo is taken out of it. There’s good players in there, but nobody world class in my opinion. And Liverpools squad is a joke. Spurs set the benchmark for squad depth !

    OleGunner: I left Rosikcy out of the equation due to his recent lack of playing time. he’s obviously a very different player to Nasri, but a an out and out winger, I’d take Young personally. And I do think he’s been better than Walcott over the last couple of years.

    Next team review will be written in the next 24hours and up soon after hopefully!

  • Go

    Nice one Armin Medic,
    Its amazing how people go on about us not having a proper cover for defrence. Who replaces Terry and Calvalho when injured? Its that muscular Brazilian twat whose football is all harum scarum. Let us not even go to Liverpool who were outclassed by Spurs and Villa at home. Manure was not really up for it without help of Dean the stupid ref. Come on folks, get up and defend our manager and team’s honor. Why should he buy when he can give a few kids a run in and experience?

  • Armin Medic

    Intersting thing about Friedel comparing to Almunia is that, he shows good performance only in big games, and of course in games where opponent attack very narrow. So quality of his play strongly depend of kind of game. While Almunia shows some consistency, he have his child desies, but if you look at greater picture he is better or let me say more reliable.
    But from other side, it doesn’t have to be correct because I am Arsenal supporter and who ever wear those red-white shirt of ours for me is best player on earth.
    PS
    If someone is such malicious to notice that Almunia wear different shirt, or that we have some other kits than red and white….. I know it

  • pig

    jay, the top three are by no means written in stone this year. with the limited information we have so far, 3 or 4 games, it would appear that of the top 4 apart from ourselves, only chelsea have shown real quality so far.

    city and the spuds have had bright starts and are way more of a threat than liverpool. manu can never be written off, i grant you, but i believe that they are running on momentum at the moment, not quality.

    true they won the match last weekend, but they didnt beat us. they didnt / couldnt score from open play.

    i do reckon the top four will be different this season end, but it wont be us giving way. if anything we are going to fare better than last year. (4th in league, semis of cl and fa)

  • Now some teams only have played weak opposition. We have played the champion, a team that would challenge us four 4th place and a weak team. Before the start of the season I would have settled for 4 points up till now.