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):
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.
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