Date: 18th September 2014 at 11:59am
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Saturday September 20th

3:00pm Kick Off

Aston Villa V Arsenal

I think it`s fair to say that as a team we haven`t at all clicked yet this season. We seem to be disjointed in our play and honestly it looks like the players either aren`t quite sure how this new formation should work or are not convinced that it will work. Personally I don`t see the need to change the way we were setup last season and isolating the one player sitting in front of the defence really isn`t playing to the strengths of the players we have who will mainly be tasked to play that position (Arteta and Falmini). Ozil on the left is not working and while heat maps may show that he tends to move from that position a lot what they also show is that he moves into an already crowded centre of the pitch (let us not forget that Jack and Aaron are already competing against each other in many cases for the same ball) and also that our left wing is often badly exposed. It`s hard to be anything other than disappointed in Ozil`s form this season but really we need to look at the manager and the role he is asking him to play. Ozil`s career stats show that when played centrally he is one of the best creative midfielders in the world. Our two best players, Ozil and Ramsey, are the ones suffering most in the current 4-1-4-1 formation and while it`s nice to see Jack get some game time and his influence is improving I don`t think that the positives we are getting from Jack out-weight the negatives we are getting everywhere else. Maybe Wenger sees something that we are all missing or maybe he feels pressurised into shoe-horning Jack into the starting eleven, I wish he could just tell us because for the life of me I can`t see the benefit of either the current formation or the current personnel. Bar twenty minutes against City we`ve looked very poor all season and honestly I think it`s very close to point where we need our manager to actually manage the situation, accept that it isn`t working and make changes.

This Saturday presents a perfect opportunity to do so when we travel to the team currently sitting second in the table and like only ourselves and Chelsea still undefeated. Three wins and a draw is a great start from this Villa side which I think many would have figured as an outside bet for the drop. It`s very early days yet but they`ve been very impressive so far. I don`t think you could, by any stretch of the imagination, suggest that they are an exciting team to watch but what Lambert has done it set them up perfectly from a tactical perspective using the players at his disposal well. Three clean sheets from four games (Hull are the only team to score against them in the league) shows that they are a difficult side to breakdown and while they are never going to net several goals a game they are very dangerous with the opportunities that they have particularly from dead-ball situations and breaks.

Formation wise they play a 4-3-3 which really morphs into a 4-5-1 or even 4-6-0 when they don`t have the ball. Without Benteke (likely back playing in 3-4 weeks)for their main attacking fulcrum they use the tricky Weinman or Agbonlahor as the spear head of their attack. The defence likes to sit deep and is well protected by Westwood who plays in front of the back line. Senderos and Baker have worked well together in the last few games with the relatively young Baker coming in for injured captain and World Cup hero Vlaar. Both centre backs are big lads and good in the air (surprisingly Senderos is almost better attacking a ball at the far end then in defence) but while

Baker is quite quick he does tend to switch off every so often. Senderos is what he has always been, a strong committed defender who`s weakness is his pace. I think that the way this Villa team is setup plays to his strengths in that he always faces the ball and plays so deep that he can avoid turning where possible but he is liable to give away free kicks , lots of them and if you can isolate him and run at him there is a penalty there waiting to be won. Ex-Spud Hutton occupies the right back position while new signing Cissokho slots into the left back role and has impressed since he`s joined. Hutton is an aggressive player full of running, whoever plays on the left for us (or please Lord not Ozil) will have a tough time against him. I`d give some serious consideration to playing Alexis here, his pace and physical commitment would seriously stretch Hutton. Cissokho joined from Valencia for £5m, like the rest of their backline he`s big and physically strong. He was very impressive against Liverpool last time out. Getting behind these four will be difficult and we can expect a lot of bodies around a congested box.

The very impressive Westwood sits in front of the back four and provides great protection. He`s a grossly underrated player and while he`s strong in the tackle he also can pass so sit off him and he`ll use that ability to play 40 yard passes to either wing targeting any of their front three. Delhp beside him provides a lot of energy and while he`s a decent player I think it shows the lack of options available to England when he is considered a starter at international level. I wouldn`t class him as a dirty player but he has a tendency to be a bit reckless, if we move the ball the way we can expect him to pick up at least a yellow card. His work-rate is however exceptional. He`s a great engine on him and at only 24 has a lot of improvement ahead of him. The much maligned Tom Cleverly has been given a chance to save his career at Villa. When he first broke onto the scene at United he was classed as the next big thing but failed to deliver and became (somewhat undeservedly) the focus of a lot of hatred from the United “faithful”. His has the potential to be a very good player but his style of play severely limits the type of teams he can play for. He`s almost a luxury player in midfield in that he`s not good at the physical side of the game but he is a lovely passer of the ball and will create chances. I think that a season of football will do him the world of good and while I don`t see him ever making it at United (that ship I think has sailed) he will do well. Defending isn`t his game but once you accept that, and set the rest of the team up accordingly he`ll reward you.

Another ex-United head Richardson plays on the left wing and offers probably more defensively than he does offensively these days. Again he always puts in a good shift and will give our midfield very little respite but his once blistering pace has faded somewhat. You`ll see him almost as an auxiliary left-back for much of Saturday. With Benteke now only starting training again after a long 5 months out Weinman is the player most likely used as their focal point. Agbonlahor will support and does drift into that position but he`s more naturally a wide player. Weinman is a player that I`ve always liked. He seems to have been around forever but he`s only 23-24. His has immense potential but his consistency has let him down a lot over the years. If he sorts that out he could get a move to a major club (no offence Villa) but until he does he will continue to frustrate and delight in equal measure. Interchanging with him will be our old pal Agbonlahor. There`s a lot to like about him as a player – he`s incredibly direct, committed on the pitch, very fast with tricky feet and a decent finisher. He does tend to dive a bit which I dislike but it`s admirable that he`s stayed loyal to Villa (his hometown club I believe) for so long considering he could have secured a move to a bigger club several times over the years. There is a maturity to his play now that has developed over the last 2 years or so, a tactical awareness that wasn`t there before. His performance against Liverpool

was excellent, he sat on Gerrard all game, didn`t give him any time and forced Liverpool to play faster that they would have liked. If we start Arteta, expect him to do the same or worse to him.

There is much to admire about this Villa side. They are limited but dangerous and their ability on free kicks and corners is a real source of concern given our dreadful defending of them of late. If they score first we will be really up against it and you can`t allow them to dictate the pace of the game. Tactically there are very astute as a team with a good keeper and a solid, if limited back line. It`s going to be a very tight game and while I certainly think we can win it if we continue to play the 4-1-4-1 formation we won`t. The injury to Jack will force Wenger to reshuffle his pack and I`m hoping that he`ll go back to last season`s 4-3-3 with Arteta, Ramsey and Ozil making up the middle three. I`d start Alexis on the left and the energy of Ox on the right should force Richardson back.

We might well add a second later on in the game but I`m going for a very tight 0-1 win to The Arsenal.