So we dismissed the Tiny Tots from down the road with relative ease which was nice but we lost Theo for the rest of the season which was not so nice. A real pity that Theo is out as he was having some serious impact on the games he was playing and looking like he could go on a real goal scoring run not seen by an Arsenal player since Theo`s pre-contract signing heights of last season! Anyway, the one silver lining for him is that he will likely be around for the birth of his first child in June instead of being thousands of miles away playing a competition that will really only end one way for England. I find it startling how the English press talk up very average players (Townsend anyone?) into world class stars in time for the World Cup only to be all shocked when England`s inability to hold onto the ball for more than 5 seconds at a time is exposed by the first side of technical quality that they meet. Closer to the World Cup I`ll knock together a Scout Report of the English side but be forewarned; I wouldn`t be confident that there will be many positives to come out of Brazil for England. Still at least you lot are there, over here we paid a manager £2.5m per year not to qualify!
Forget all the talk about Theo being back playing in 4 months, we should count ourselves lucky if he is back jogging by early July and ready to pull on an Arsenal shirt by around the September timeframe. We have to just hope that this injury doesn`t rob him of his pace which, while not his only asset, is probably his main one. Maybe in the time off he can study to build up his football brain which despite scoring 21 goals last season some pundits still feel he quite clearly lacks!
Next up for us is Villa away and despite robbing 3 points from us in the opening game of the season, are a team that I`ve always had a soft spot for. Indeed, we may even look back when the season ends and actually thank Villa for that defeat, while polishing the League trophy, as it served as our own almost CTJ (coming to Jesus) moment acting as a shock for both the players and the manager into what was required to win games. It was 3 points lost but it seems that for a lesson learned it was money well spent.
While that game was the low point of our season it was most certainly the high point of theirs and both teams have gone on opposite directions since. They struggled last season and at one point I thought that there were really due for the drop but Lambert stuck with his relatively young squad and toughed it out eventually pulling to safety. I`d imagine many Villa fans were really expecting to kick on from that point, especially after beating us, but injuries and loss of form to key players have meant that while there are far worse teams then them out there they are still looking over their should and the sooner they reach the 40 point mark (currently on 23) the sounder they will sleep.
Formation wise they play a 4-3-3 formation, usually with 2 of the midfield 3 sitting deep which allows their front 3 to break with real pace. They are setup as a counter attacking side and on their day are a very dangerous team which we need to be fully switched on against. Guzman in goal is a solid keeper, a very good shot stopper (he`s played well against us on more than one occasion) but prone to lapses in concentration particularly under the high ball. The two centre back, Clark and Vlar (if he has a knock then Baker) are good without being anything special. At 24 Clark is young enough to suggest that there is the makings of a good defender in him but he needs to start making the step up and for me he doesn`t yet dominate the defence the way he should, he certainly has the talent and has shown his ability in patches but he is not there yet. Vlaar alongside him is also a good
individual player and is also the club captain. He`s a regular for Holland so he`s no mug and while Villa aren`t the worst defensive team in the league they do give up a lot of chances. Lowton and Luna (on the right and left back positions) are both solid young players who would likely look a lot better in a better team. They like to get forward, Luna in particular, and will support their counter-attacks when given the chance. The Villa back 5 as individuals is quite good and should be more solid than it actually is. I don`t know if its a coaching issue or style of play but for some reason they haven`t quite clicked and can be got at. They have let in 25 goals this season, 14 at home in 10 games so we will have chances against them.
In front of the backline Villa will likely play 3 of Delph, Westwood, El Ahmadi and Bacuna. Delph and Westwood seem to be getting the nod with one of the other two. Villa tend to play 2 deep sitting or defensive midfielders (similar to when we play Art and Flamini) and I cannot see them changing this against us. I think that whoever they play will try to harry and hassle us out of our stride and then move the ball forward quickly to the front three. Its not a style of football or approach to a game that we haven`t seen before and as long as we keep intensity and focus high we have the better quality of players that should tell on the pitch.
Their front 3 are all tricky players, with the speedy Agbonlahor and the very clever Weinman playing either side of either of an out of form Benteke or perhaps even Kozak. Agbonlahor seems to have been around for years but I was surprised to see he is only 27, on his day he can be a real handful and his speed is a real danger in the box, we have to be very careful putting in tackles on him because while he isn`t a serial diver he certainly goes down easily. Benteke is having a terrible season with only 4 league goals in 15 apprearences. 2 of those goals were against us, both penalties more or less and he has only scored one real goal from open play. His career has always suggested that there is a bit of an attitude problem there and to date he`s followed the Adebyeor model of one good season followed by pushing for a move and playing crap until it`s granted. He certainly has the ability but it would be a “no thank you” for me should he could available in the summer. Kozak, pretty similar scoring record, has stood in for Benteke while he was injured and he`s looked ok without setting the world on fire. I do like Weinman as a player, great work rate and only ever takes the ball one direction – towards goal. He`s only 22 and surely a move to a bigger club will be on for him soon?
Villa are sitting 11th in the table and while that`s on a par with where they finished last season they are only 6 points off the relegation zone. After us they face a tough run of games away to Liverpool and Everton and home to draw specialists West Brom so they are far from safe. One point from the next 12 is a real possibility for them and would spell serious trouble. 4 defeats from the last 7 league games in not good form for them and their home form is poor with only 2 wins all season.
With injuries our team almost picks itself, the back five is set. I`d go for Flamini in the middle with Jack and Ozil supporting a front 3 of Giroud, Santi and possibly Thomas R (the man making all us 30-somethings feel ashamed of our energy levels). Our midfield is a level or two above theirs and we owe them from that opening day. Don`t be surprised by Benteke upping his game against a team to whom he would fancy a move but also don`t be surprised with a rather comfortable Gunners win either.
Arsenal to win, 2-0.
Scout Report: Aston Villa