David Villa: The Key To Saving Arsenal’s Season

Here we are with another transfer window, and once again Arsenal are being linked with almost every striker in the market. Today we’ll be focusing on Barcelona’s striker David Villa.

The Spanish all-time top scorer has been linked lately with a move to the Emirates stadium. It’s no surprise that Villa is looking for first team opportunities. Since his return from his broken leg injury, he didn’t manage to get back his spot as a regular starter in Vilanova’s team. If the price is right, the Spanish giants might be tempted to sell Villa to clear the way for new signing (possibly Neymar). But the question is, should the Gunners sign the player?

The summer signings of Podolski and Giroud are yet to prove to be clinical finishers at the top level, and so is Theo Walcott. They’re all good players and scored a good amount of goals this year. Arsenal’s attackers don’t seem to struggle against teams who play attacking football. When the space is available for the likes of Theo and Poldi, they can score easily. The games against Reading and Newcastle are good examples.

But the problem has been against well organized defenses who applied “Park The Bus” tactics, and that was obvious against Aston Villa, Norwich and Southampton. The gunners struggled to create any chances, and when they did, the strikers couldn’t finish them. What Arsenal need is a clinical finisher, a leader, a player who knows how to act in the final third. That was Van Persie’s role last year. He was more than just a striker; he was a leader, a play maker and game changing player.

At the age of 31, Villa has enough experience and skills to be exactly what Arsene Wenger’s side needs. He’s a versatile forward who can play as CF and on the left wing, Wenger can use him to rotate with Walcott, Podolski and Giroud, and they can also benefit from his experience.

We saw last year how Henry, at the age of 34, won Arsenal 2 games ( 1-0 against Leeds in the FA cup, and 1-2 against Sunderland) . Same thing with Drogba who was the main reason of crowning Chelsea as champions of Europe.

Villa still has a couple of years left in him and he’s available for around £ 15 million. I think that Wenger should go for it and bring the Champions League winner of 2011 to the Emirates.

Share your thoughts, Gunners!

 

Written by Ahmad Ezzeddine

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La Liga: Best XI for the First Half of the Season

The Ballon d’Or awards were announced on Monday and it proved to be a clean sweep for Spanish football; Lionel Messi lifted his fourth player of the year award in succession, Vicente Del Bosque was named coach of the year and the team of the year were all based in the Primera Division. It is a reflection of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance that all but one of the eleven played for them.

However, whilst some of these players have been boosted by their national notoriety too, other league based players have excelled. It is therefore time to reflect on the first half of the league season in Spain and pick out the most in form eleven players:

 

Goalkeeper

 

Willy Caballero (Malaga CF)

Many fans and pundits alike were worried for Malaga before the season began but they have surprised all with their performances. One key facet to their success has been their defence and Caballero has been outstanding in goal.

 

Defenders

 

Jordi Alba (Barcelona)

It seems like he has never been away. His understanding of the way Barca play is fantastic and already he has made the position his own. Following on from a tremendous European Championships Alba looks set for more glory in 2013.

 

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

Despite all the shenanigans at Real Madrid at the moment Ramos has been a rock in defence at times. The gifted, ball playing centre half is still only 26 but seems to have been around forever.

 

Martin Demichelis (Malaga)

Having conceded the fewest goals in the league so far Demichelis has drawn on all his experience to be the fulcrum at the centre of their defence.

 

Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)

It has been great to see Atletico doing so well this season and Filipe Luis has been an integral part of their success. The Brazilian sustained an injury shortly before the end of the year but will be crucial in Los Rojiblancos chase for Champions League qualification and their defence of the Europa League.

 

Midfield

 

Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

Busquets gets better and better with every passing year. The ability to receive the ball and play the correct pass almost every time while at the same time protecting the defence makes him the leading exponent of the defensive midfielder role in world football.

 

Oscar Gonzalez (Valladolid)

Last season Oscar contributed 13 goals and six assists in Valladolid’s promotion to the Primera. He has carried on where he left off and already has seven goals and four assists to his name this season. He will be vital to the club for the remainder of the season.

 

Isco (Malaga)

Isco’s incredible displays in 2012 have alerted all the major clubs to his potential. A player with incredible technique and a unique ability to beat opponents with ease have reminded many of a young Andres Iniesta, high praise indeed.

 

Forwards

 

Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid)

The Colombian striker has 17 goals in 16 games so far this season; a record that would make him top scorer in almost every other league in Europe. Whether he has to chip, head or volley the ball at goal it is done with remarkable skill and precision. So far this season he has proved he is a truly world class performer.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

It has been a funny few months in Madrid but the goals just keep on coming. His record in Spain since he arrived is staggering (171 goals in 171 games) and his performances just keep getting better and better. At 27 he is now around his peak, if only it wasn’t for an Argentine he must think…..

 

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

What more is there to say? The superlatives you can offer simply cannot do justice to the man anymore. Simply the best and the fact that he seems to enjoy it so much only makes everyone like him more.

 

Written by Andy Hunter

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Aston Villa: Lambert’s Villa project faces early litmus test

Paul Lambert, whose managerial career has blossomed from the depths of League Two with Wycombe to the Premier League, probably thought his days of competing with those languishing at the bottom of the league pyramid were over.

His three year job of guiding Norwich from League One to the Premier League and establishing them as a solid unit at the top level, took him to Aston Villa, a constant in the top division for the last 24 years but a club in need of galvanising after two years of decline. In the January of his inaugural year at Villa Park, it is a club from the basement division ironically testing Lambert’s position in the top league.

Villa are placed 16th after 21 Premier League games and are nervously looking over their shoulder at Wigan who are in the relegation zone, separated from the Midlands club by a point. They are in the semi-final of the League Cup, but are now close to the embarrassing brink of elimination to fourth tier outfit Bradford, who beat Villa 3-1 in the first leg, a result that occurred after a dreadful run of form that included festive defeats to Chelsea, Spurs and Wigan by a collective score of fifteen goals to nil.

Lambert has a clear long-term project in place at Villa and he should be, admittedly in contrast to modern football’s desire for immediacy, afforded time as a result. Shay Given, Darren Bent and Stephen Warnock have all lost their places as Lambert tries to build a side on young players, Christian Benteke is a regular up front at the age of 22, Ashley Westwood, the 22 year old who was last year playing for Crewe in League Two, partners Barry Bannan, 23, in midfield whilst Matthew Lowton, a summer signing from Sheffield United, plays at right-back at the age of 23.

Lowton played against Bradford in a back four alongside 21 year old Nathan Baker, 22 year old Joe Bennett and 23 year old Ciaran Clark. The Bantams duly exposed the folly of such inexperience by punishing abject defending at set-pieces to take a handsome lead back to Villa Park in a fortnight’s time.

23 year old Fabian Delph, so far a disappointment following his £6 million move from Leeds in 2009, played alongside Bannan on Tuesday night as Villa cope with the loss of captain Stiliyan Petrov who continues his recovery from leukaemia. It’s the loss of his influence that comes more obvious with every game Lambert’s slight midfield is badly overrun.

Misfortune with injuries has been a problem, the combative Karim Al-Ahmadi has been lost to an ankle knock whilst, at the back, Richard Dunne’s wealth of experience has been missing with a knee injury and fellow centre-back Ron Vlaar, a summer signing from Feyenoord, has seen a calf injury stop his promising impact from the early days at the club.

But the manager has tried intentionally to move away from past eras and it is backfiring. Charles N’Zogbia, Stephen Ireland, Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor, all players with proven Premier League pasts, have been overlooked at certain stages by Lambert and although Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia started the game with Bradford, they were the only 2 outfield players in Villa’s team to complete a season in the top division.

Faith has instead been installed in Brett Holman, signed on a free from AZ Alkmaar in the summer, and the 21 year old Andreas Weimann who has been part of Villa’s youth set up since being spotted by O’Neill in 2007. His eight goals in the last eleven games being one of the few bright points of Lambert’s youthful overhaul.

It is a deliberate approach that has owed, in part, to the lavish spending of the Martin O’Neil days in which, although the club enjoyed two sixth place finishes, a squad was assembled on a wage bill that accounted for 88% of the annual turnover.

Remnants from the O’Neill days Carlos Cuellar, Habib Beye and James Collins have been moved on, but Lambert has been left with Warnock, Given, Bent, Ireland and Alan Hutton, players who the Scotsman doesn’t view as value for money in the long term and has phased out in the prophecy of their departures that will bring the Villa wage bill down to more healthier levels. Young players with low reputations have formed the new approach, but there is no doubting, as Bradford reinforced on Tuesday, Lambert may have to compromise or risk capping the two years of decline since the departure of O’Neill in 2010 with a possible disastrous relegation.

That may mean dipping into the transfer market to add valuable experience in what would be a potential gamble against accusations of panic-buying, or he could turn back to players like Bent who do not seem to have a future within Lambert’s new regime. The 4-1 and 2-4 win at Norwich and Manchester City in the cup, and the 1-3 league win at Liverpool have indicated Lambert does have the talent in his young side to work with, but those performances have become anomalies in what has become a depressing season that has failed to arrest the slide, even when the long-term picture is taken into account.

Lambert faces a huge decision on whether to back his instinct and continue with his band of fresh blood or change to save the short-term before his long-term vision, refreshing in the modern game, is lost forever. Maybe chairman Randy Lerner has a decision whether to continue with his manager should the club slip closer to the drop and Bradford manage to finish their extraordinary job in two week’s time.

Whatever the Villa hierarchy chose to do, Lambert’s future design is being built on extremely rocky ground.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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