Thursday, November 29, 2007

Giant Killers Once Again

(Pat Burgwinkle)

This Saturday, Aston Villa F.C. take on Arsenal F.C. in Birmingham at Villa Park. Arsenal is top of the table in England, but Aston Villa is only one point off of fourth place Chelsea and are currently tied with Liverpool. Clearly this is a highly anticipated Premiership clash.

In actuality, it probably isn't. However, this the second JJ derby (Liverpool edged Villa 2-1 after an absurd Gerrard free kick in the first one) and since Arsenal are pretty good at soccer at the moment, I thought I'd outline what I think are Aston Villa's keys to victory. They're fairly straight forward, but I honestly think if they follow through on these points, they can win.

1. Attack hard, fast, and often

I'll do my best John Madden impersonation here by pointing out that in order to win soccer games, you must score goals and in order to score goals you must attack. However, Villa does need to attack as opposed to sitting back and attempting to weather the storm that is Arsenal in hopes of grabbing a draw. Aston Villa has speed in abundance in the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young. These guys are fast as hell and can make things happen in a hurry. Add to this the anchoring presence of Garreth Barry in midfield and you have a fairly formidable offensive unit that is capable of scoring goals in abundance. 4 goals against Tottenham and Blackburn, 3 goals against Middlesborough and two of those games were also shutouts. This brings me to key point number 2:

2. Focus on marking

When Villa played Tottenham, they went up 4-1 and then conceded 3 goals, including a 90th minute equaliser. The major problem was when Tottenham attacked in a meaningful way, the Villa defense seemed incapable of covering the men who were in and around the box and unable to clear the ball in an effective manner. In the Manchester United game, a 4-1 loss, Villa actually scored first. Then, Manchester attacked and for reasons that remain unknown to me and anyone else who is even vaguely aware that Wayne Rooney is a deadly striker, the Villa defense refused to put a man on him. I'm pretty confident that Villa can score goals against Arsenal. They've scored 2 on Chelsea and 1 each on Liverpool and Manchester. They're capable of attacking the big four. However, Arsenal has many deadly offensive weapons, Cesc Fabregas being the one I'm most concerned about. If Villa get complacent and don't offer meaningful challenges to Arsenal's formidable offensive weapons, they will lose.

One hopeful sign for Villa has been the goal keeping of Scott Carson all year, but especially the two shut outs he has recorded since his disastrous appearance for England against Croatia. His confidence is clearly not shaken and since the game is at home, he won't have to endure the abuse of an angry England contingent like he has at Middlesborough and Blackburn.

I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't settle for a draw, but to be honest, the American in me thinks draws are for sissies. Arsenal is playing for the top spot in the EPL and have a tough December ahead with games against Villa, Tottenham, and Chelsea all awaiting them in December. Villa on the other hand, is playing for a European spot and, all things considered, could still get that even if they lose this game. Thus, I would recommend taking a page out of Croatia's playbook and just play as if you nothing to lose because essentially, Villa have nothing to lose because people expect them to anyway. As for my prediction for the game, assuming Villa play like they are capable of playing, I'm going for an upset at Villa Park: Aston Villa 3 Arsenal 2