Gillespie Guest Post: The Aston Villa Perspective

This weeks Guest Post is from Villa fan Will Thornton, who isn’t feeling too confident about Villa’s chances but certainly isn’t ruling out the upset quite yet. Apparently we should see Benteke, the man who signed for Villa thinking they were in London, as the main danger-man….

Being a Villa fan in recent years has become more and more stressful as we have cemented ourselves as the ‘stepping stone’ team, buying players young and turning them into potential stars before then bending over as soon as the big clubs come knocking. Examples include Ashley Young going to Man Utd, Gareth Barry & James Milner going to Man City and also the laughable Stewart Downing going to the Scousers. Unfortunately the pinnacle moment for this downfall was 4 days before the 2010/2011 season began when Martin O’Neill quit and left us to feel the 2 year effects. O’Neill felt that the chairman wasn’t giving him enough funds despite having already spent about 100 million or so in 4 years.

Anyway before I start to ramble on about the bad things that have happened to Villa fans recently I should focus more on the task at hand….the Arsenal. Actually, the Arsenal fixture for me has been quite an enjoyable one in the past 5 years with Villa enjoying 2 fine victories against the Gunners at the Emirates, once in 2008 with a 2-0 win and second in 2011 with a 2-1 win thanks to a quick early double from new signing Darren Bent. Unfortunately our past 5 meetings at Villa Park have either ended in draws or losses and have continued a poor run without clocking a win against them at home since ’98. Clearly we are the underdogs but everyone loves a good underdog challenge.

This season we have a new manager in Paul Lambert and even though it has been a tough start for us I still feel more hopeful than I did last season when we had the ginger in charge. Alex McLeish had us playing very negative and defensive football, which no fan wants to see, and it became harder and harder to watch as he insisted in starting possibly the worst back four I’ve ever seen in Warnock, Hutton, Collins and Dunne. This season Lambert came straight in and removed all the idiots from the defence by loaning them out and selling them and started to rebuild from scratch. Now we have a new look defence with our new captain Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark, both looking very strong in the centre of defence.

Another move by Lambert was to target the lower leagues to find our new wingbacks, purchasing Matt Lowton from Sheffield United and Joe Bennett from Middlesbrough who both looked to have a lot of potential but are a long way from being stars. Shay Given has lost his place to the young American keeper Brad Guzan, who after 5 years at Villa has seemed to come into his own and has put in a run of good performances. Our midfield options are actually not too bad as we have players like Ireland, El Ahmadi, Bannan, Albrighton, Holman, Westwood and Delph ready to fit into various positions. As usual however, we are plagued with injuries with players like N’Zogbia, Herd, Bennett and Dunne still out, but that is nothing new. We welcome back Darren Bent from a month on the sidelines but whether he’ll start against Arsenal is another question because the attacking options of Agbonlahor, Weimann and Benteke seem to all be paying off at the moment with all 3 getting on the score sheet as of late.

I believe the best bit of business that Villa have done for a while is bringing in the 21 year old Christian Benteke from the Belgium side Genk. He came straight in and scored on his debut against Swansea and has not stopped since. He’s scored 5 for Villa in 9 appearances and also has managed to hold his own in the very talented Belgium side as the loan striker and has also managed to score 3 times in his last 3 for them. Not only that but he seems to get his head onto everything and is skilful and strong. So he, depending on how both teams line up on Saturday, could cause the Arsenal defence some serious trouble.

What will be the outcome of this classic English football fixture? For most it is an easy answer and they’re probably right, but with the way football is and the current trend of everyone beating everyone you never know.

You can never write the Villa off.

The 5pur2 Effect


3 days on and it still sounds so very sweet. Every time I happen to glance at the time and see the score line etched on the face of my watch I can’t help but laugh. The North London Derby is arguably my favorite fixture of the season. It’s a constant reminder to us and Spurs fans that despite what they think at the beginning of every season, they will never ever ever ever rule North London.

I won’t go into too much detail in terms of the game as I am sure that you have all, like me, read about a thousands articles all saying roughly the same thing and loved every minute of it. I will though mention the joy of watching Adebayor, the worst professional the game has ever seen make headlines, once again, for all the wrong reasons, and how handy the red season tickets are for moments like that.

After Adebayor’s dismissal the thundering header from Per set us on our way and the rest is history. The usually placid German showing in his celebration the kind of passion that we all love to see. An indication, for me, of how he feels about the Club and his understanding of not just the derby but also the position we are in. It was reminiscent of Sagna’s header is the corresponding fixture last year and was the catalyst to our domination.

I disagree with those who say that without the red card Arsenal may not have triumphed. It may not have been quite so easy but it’s rare for teams to concede five goals even when down to ten men. We dominated all over the park, particularly in the centre of midfield. Much has been said about Carzola’s influence on the game and it cannot be denied. The growing understanding between him and Jack is encouraging and in the two of them I believe we have two of the most talented midfielders in the division. Walcott was also instrumental but my praise of him will remain muted until he signs on the dotted line.

The post game gathering in the Tollington was a world away from the feeling after Fulham. Jack was the first to drive past and as everyone sang ‘what do you think of Tottenham?’ it was quite clear that Jack was mouthing the remainder of the chant back to us. Absolute class. His feelings made quite clear both on and off the pitch.

Jenkinson was a late arrival and we manage to go over and have a proper chat with him. One of us asked him how much he hates Tottenham to which he replied ‘as much as you lot’, an opinion firmly backed up by his dad who was with him. From behind us cries of ‘we hate Tottenham’ were coming from the remaining Gooners and Jenks was banging on the roof of his car to the same tune. Absolutely incredible. That family really is living the dream and is an example of how passion off the pitch can lead to success on it.

On to tomorrow night now and a match against the French champions should be a very winnable game. Since we stole their most potent attacker they’ve struggled in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

Just an aside on Giroud, I find it interesting and typical of the English press that as soon as he starts producing some really excellent performances there is nothing to read on him, yet after four Premier League games without a goal he was all over the back pages. Just ridiculous.

Anyway back to Montpellier and they currently lie at the foot of the group with only a miracle granting them qualification. They’ll be playing for their pride though and this is not a game that we should approach half-heartedly. We must build on the momentum gained from the weekend and make sure that the result kick starts a run of wins. We are a better side than them and we must make that very clear on the pitch come Wednesday night.

Our next five fixtures in the league are Villa (A), Everton (A), Swansea (H), W.B.A (H) and Reading (A) all games that we should be looking to get wins in.

Nick highlighted in his last post the growing divide in opinion amongst the Arsenal fan base. Lets hope now that the result at the weekend and some positive results over the coming weeks can change the overall mood to one of optimism.

The game against Tottenham comes as a reminder of why we love this game and this Club so much. Long may the winning feeling continue.


Unity in Adversity: Why I’m Disappointed by Fan Reaction

Arsenal are in a bad place, there’s no two ways about it. There are things we all would have done differently over the last 7 years, but the way in which an Arsenal fan minority (fast becoming a majority), seemingly led by Piers Morgan, have taken it upon themselves to castigate Arsene Wenger, demanding the end of the current regime, has been distressing. The readiness by which people are calling for Wenger’s head on a plinth, and the ruthless, bordering on aggressive reaction to all things Arsenal has, for me, been disappointing. I admit I am using twitter as a measurement of fan opinion, but the way in which Arsenal fans are turning on each other and the Club is not what the Arsenal is all about.

We all think we know what’s going on inside the Club and we all think we know how to turn our fortunes around. It’s funny how, as soon as the team starts under-performing everyone becomes the greatest football manager the world has ever seen. You might argue we’ve been under-performing for years but in actual fact, I’m afraid with the resources we have we’re doing pretty well. It’s not Arsenal we should be frustrated with, it’s the state of modern football in this country and in Europe. Yes poor decisions have been made year after year, and yes ticket prices are too high, manager and chief executive’s salaries are way too high. Nevertheless, how can we expect to keep up with the mega-rich Clubs like City and Chelsea whilst staying sustainable? The transfer policy has been incredibly frustrating and the sale of Van Persie to a rival I still think should have been avoided, but would a serious over-haul of manager and board members really have anything other than a negative impact?

I do think the serious fans, the fans who travel home and away have a respect for Arsene Wenger that will never falter, and that’s the way it should be. The man is the Club’s most successful manager of all time for God sake! I sympathise with those who say that doesn’t mean he has a job for life, I agree with you, but there is absolutely no excuse for forgetting what the man has done for the Club. I was in the Tollington on Saturday after the Fulham game and Arsene stopped at the red light for a while. The majority of the faithful were chanting ‘one Arsene Wenger’ in his direction and I must say I was surprised to see him extend his arm enthusiastically and give us an appreciative wave as he drove off. It was a strangely nice moment and one in which, having read all the drivel on twitter recently, put things in perspective. The man deserves our respect and yes, everyone is allowed their opinion on his managerial skills and his future at the Club, but slagging him off and insulting him is unnecessary and over the top.

It’s got so bad that now, a few days before the biggest game the Club has had in a long long time, Saturday’s North London Derby, so called fans are stupid enough to say they hope we lose so changes are made! I’m not even going to entertain that thought for more than two sentences it’s so ridiculous. Others are saying they hope we come 5th for the same reason, more are saying they’re going to boo the team on Saturday. Who are these people? They shouldn’t be allowed in the ground. The fact we’re playing Spurs makes it all the more incomprehensible.

Here’s a little snippet from earlier on today:

Opinions are great, You don’t have to agree with mine, but getting behind the team is critical and actually has a bigger impact on the team performance than you might imagine. Every home game this season has been tense. Yes, as Arsene said in his programme notes last week, it’s up to the team to get the crowd going, but it’s a mutual thing. I’m as frustrated as the next man when we miss last minute penalties and concede last minute goals, but what good is booing the team going to do? What good is leaving the ground 5 minutes early going to do? What good is posting vial, offensive comments on twitter going to do? I’m genuinely concerned about the result on Saturday but please God, regardless of result, can we all please please not turn on the team or the manager or anyone other than the Tottenham players and fans because regardless of context,  this rivalry is too big for saturday to be the time for civil unrest.


Gillespie Guest Post: The Fulham Perspective

Memories of standing at Craven Cottage in the freezing cold back in January, only with the delicious hot dogs for comfort, still haunt me. To jolt your memories Zamora scored a last minute winner whilst the home game in November 2011 saw Vermaelen snatching a point in the 83rd. This week’s Gillespie Guest Post comes from Fulham fan Hamish who paints a terrifying picture of some confident Cottagers.

Away matches are not something that Fulham fans are used to getting excited about. Our lousy form on the road makes for a dead cert on most people’s weekend accumulators, ever since we joined the League in 2001. But something is happening at the cottage this season, which beggars a touch of optimism.

Despite the recent loses of Dempsey and Dembele, Fulham have had a surprisingly good start to the season, and sit equal on points with Arsenal ahead of Saturday’s tie. Our first away match without the dynamic duo had alarm bells ringing, as West Ham completely outstripped us in the midfield, and we were undone by the vision (yes, vision) of Andy Carroll.

But fortunately, things seem to have moved on. Rather than spending big, Fulham have seen their less noticed squad players step up to the plate. Former Gooner Steve Sidwell has been solid: 3 goals, including the one that clinched a lucky draw with Everton last weekend. Chris “Baird-inho” has also had the fans singing, since his last minute winner against Villa. But Martin Jol remains realistic about where our threat as a team lies in pointing out:

“We need to get the ball to our better players up front”

Blunt, as ever, but very true. Jol has worked some transfer magic in acquiring Rodellaga on a free, and the formidable Dimitar Berbatov for a fee of £4 million. Combined with the talent of Ruiz, Petric and Kacaniklic – This can make for a potent attacking force.

5 points from our last three away games could easily have been 9, were it not for last minute goals against Reading and Southampton. That shakiness away from home seems to have (dare I say it) temporarily disappeared. Nonetheless Arsenal are going to be much tougher opponents. The goals may be coming for Fulham, but it feels like the Gunner’s recent drought is also wearing off. This is a concern since our defence has been worryingly accident-prone of late. The Hangeland-Hughes combination, a hallmark of solidarity in seasons gone by, has been exposed too often. If Theo Walcott starts, and has one of those days when he bothers to be world class, he will no doubt get the better of John Arne. However, defence seems to be a problem that is generic to almost every side in the premiership at the moment. The top three are no exception, and neither are Arsenal. Koscielney’s errors were laughable against Reading, and perhaps their woes were adequately summed up by Santos offering to swap his shirt in the tunnel during half time at Old Trafford.

Fulham will surely be confident based on their last visit to the Emirates, and good recent form, whilst Arsenal should fancy their chances with a (potentially?) reinvigorated frontline, and a leaky Fulham defence. The Emirates is a hard place to travel to, and may be one step too far for Fulham’s away run. Nevertheless, I remain confident that we can poach a couple of goals, and hopefully tighten things up at the other end. Prediction 2-2.


Theo and Man Utd Preview…

We enter the game on Saturday following the crazy mid week spectacle at the Madejski; the likes of which I haven’t seen before and from an Arsenal point of view am very unlikely to see again. However enjoyable the drama of Tuesday night, when you step back from it you can’t help but feel that allowing ourselves to get into such a position is a worrying feat from any Arsenal side. Tom Lutz on Football Weekly made an interesting point this week about the reaction of Arsene Wenger, whose celebrations were pretty muted despite the comeback. Perhaps a good indication of what he really thought to our overall performance. Despite this, Wenger’s favorite character reference could not be applied better to a game and there is no doubt that it will bring about some positive momentum around the club.

One encouraging aspect of Tuesday’s game was the three goals for Theo Walcott. Admittedly the Reading defence was sub standard to say the very least, but given the opportunities you couldn’t have asked for much more from him. The first goal in particular, a show of composure that in seasons gone by he most likely would have scuffed at ninety degrees. This is, of course, the age old problem with Walcott, one day he will give you a display of finishing that will bring back memories of Thierry only to go into the next game and produce a level closer to our old friend Franny Jeffers. So does his performance warrant a place in the starting line-up this weekend? It’s tough to call; given his clear lack of loyalty to the club my enthusiasm towards him is lacking, but on pure footballing reasons it might be time to give him a start. Even without the injury to Gervinho I’d say Walcott is now better suited to the central role. You can’t help thinking that his reluctance to sign a new deal has effected his game time this season. It might be quite nice to see a 4-4-2 with Walcott and Giroud working along side but that seems a highly unlikely change to make given the importance of Saturday.

Arsene has come out saying that Theo’s negotiations must be wrapped up by Christmas, no doubt with an eye on the January window. If he doesn’t sign then, for me, he must be sold and must be replaced. An additional striker is needed anyway but to see our squad weakened in January would be madness.

Saturday 12.00 sees us head to Old Trafford, where we have not tasted victory since 2006, when Adebayor grabbed the only goal. So on stats alone the odds are stacked against us. I am, however reasonably optimistic ahead of the game. I feel we have a squad that on paper is well equipped to cope with United all over the pitch. I expect Jack to start and the midfield trio of Carzola, Arteta and Wilshire have the ability to set the tone for the others to follow.

Our potency in attack is an area that is a slight worry, but I continue to be impressed by the impact Giroud has made since breaking his duck. His headed goal against Reading in midweek was top quality and his overall impact very encouraging. Granted Utd are a very different challenge but with good performances around him I remain convinced he can have an effective game.

In previous seasons it has been their wing play that has caused us major problems, it wouldn’t surprise me to see their wingers given the freedom to run, particularly at Santos whose defensive discipline has been put under scrutiny after his last two performances. Podolski will have to be on his toes to keep up the good defensive work he’s provided this season.

Although it pains me to say it the front duo of Rooney and Van Persie is frightening combination and it’s going to take a top defensive performance from Per and Vermaelen to prevent goals. Hopefully our previous experience of Van Persie will help us throughout the game, but it’s still going to be a tough task.

I’m interested to see how he conducts himself on the pitch, he’s always had a fiery side to him and hopefully we can get under his skin and he’ll produce something rash. Wenger has asked fans to show respect towards our old captain, but given the respect shown to us I highly doubt his request to be granted.

It’s a tough one to call but my gut tells me we might just grab it. Both teams to score but a 2-1 win to Arsenal.

Maybe it’s blinded loyalty but who cares, COYG!