Alex McLeish brings his stuttering Villa team to the Grove tomorrow in what could prove to be a significant day in the battle for Champions League positions. T*******m travel to the Bridge for the day’s Clash of the Arseholes, and with a bit of luck they’ll enter into bitter combat with each other for a debilitating no score draw. Failing that I’ll settle for the spuds being sent home with a point by a heartbreaking injury time own goal by The Best Player In The World Who Happens To Be Welsh.
Villa are currently in 15th position for the principal reason that they are not very good at scoring goals – they have found the net only 31 times in 28 league games. Surprisingly, though, their goal difference is only -4, and they have been pretty tight defensively over the last four games, conceding only three goals. So given their attacking limitations, which are compounded by the loss of Bent for the duration, it seems unlikely that they’ll be gung ho tomorrow and look to take us on. Instead, I daresay McLeish will be parking his pockmarked, ginger-roofed Caledonian bus at the edge of the area, and looking to use Agbonlahor’s pace for counter-attacks. N’Zogbia is doubtful with a knee ligament problem he picked up in training yesterday.
Fortunately we do not appear to have any significant injury problems following the win at Everton. Personally, I’d rather see Ramsey on the bench and Gervinho or the Ox starting on the left hand side. Hutton should be targeted in particular; he got himself sent off when we played them last December and either Gervinho or the Ox could give him a torrid time if they go at him.
If we play with the same level of urgency we showed in attack for the first 20 minutes on Wednesday we should profit – mental discipline will be crucial, and the players are going to have be utterly focussed and committed. We cannot take Villa for granted and on too many occasions in the past few seasons we have seen ineffectual performances follow a win. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t claim all the points tomorrow.
Moving on, it has been very encouraging to see promising young players going out on loan over the past couple of days: Chuks Aneke has gone to Preston, Benik Afobe to Reading and today Yennaris joined Notts County. These are promising developments for each player and they can only benefit from the experience, provided they don’t end up being kicked from here ’til next Thursday by some lower league clogger and put out of action for the long term. The manager had some interesting points to make in todays press conference regarding the size of the squad and how this influences our involvement in the transfer market next summer. The mantra – as it was last year – is “quality not quantity”. Arsene pointed out:
“…don’t forget we have many players out on loan and we have not had Jack Wilshere or Abou Diaby for the whole season… These players will be back and it means that number and quality-wise we are strong because we are in the position we are in without these players.”
Observations like this lead pundits, journos, hacks and fans to subject them to the same kind of feverish analysis that resulted in the Engima decrypts 70-odd years ago, by sheds full of tweed-jacketed Oxbridge boffins at Bletchley Park. From where I’m sitting (in my navy blue 125th anniversary track top, by the way – no tweed here) it seems pretty obvious from his comments that he doesn’t intend to sign a midfielder. So assuming that the Podolski deal is pretty much sorted, that means – perhaps – one additional signing, and the obvious thing to do would be to get another centre half in place of poor old Squillaci. So that would mean two top quality signings in the summer, rather than the four suggested by Marco Van Basten. I think I could live with that, but will it be enough to sway Van Persie?