By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Similar to the Blackburn match in that we had a fairly easy win against a team that will be struggling to avoid being relegated this year.
Record: 2-5-0, 9 goals scored, 5 goals conceded, 11 points, 6th place
Goal scorers: Gabriel Agbonlahor (4), Darren Bent (2)
Assists: Gabriel Agbonlahor (2)
Man of the match: Gabriel Agbonlahor
Next up: @Manchester City (Oct. 15)
1. Gabriel Agbonlahor might be forcing his way back into the England team. After a terrible season last year under Gerard Houllier, Agbonlahor has easily been Villa’s best player the first part of the season and has (almost) made some forget about Ashley Young and Stewart “I’ll join your team for a cheeseburger and a sweater” Downing. Almost. If he can keep up his play, Villa will compete for a European spot.
2. Wigan aren’t very good. I’ve always liked Wigan, who play decent, attractive football on a shoestring budget and introduce some interesting players from Central and South America. Based on their early results, though, unless they sign a really good player in January, they’re really odds-on to get relegated. The only team that has been worse that I’ve seen so far is Blackburn, and they’ll probably fire their manager, so who knows if they’ll stay terrible. Aside from Franco Di Santo, who has looked good, and has to for them to have any chance of staying up, they didn’t offer much at all in this game.
3. Steven Ireland might have a use after all. But I do say “might.” He played OK in this game and seems to have the manager still pulling for him a little bit since he’s seen some time the last couple matches. I for one hope that he comes good – he’s certainly one of the more talented players in the year, but it remains to be seen.
4. Maybe Bent’s goal can get him scoring again. It’s been a slow start for Darren Bent, though that’s at least partially because the four players who have played on the wing so far this season that should be supplying him with goals are Agbonlahor (two assists on Bent goals), Emile Heskey (not a winger), Marc Albrighton (rarely plays), Charles N’Zogbia (struggling so far) and Barry Bannan (more of a central midfielder). The thing with Bent is, you know that if he gets chances he will score, so at some point in the season, if we can continue to play well, he’ll put in a few more goals.
5. Man City are next. A lot of people have been frustrated with the team under Alex McLeish so far, which makes sense – we haven’t been exactly inspiring so far, though we haven’t been bad either – but it’s a little too much to ask for the team to switch managers and pick up points and play beautiful football all at once. I’ve said this before: Houllier got a whole year; give McLeish a whole year as well. He deserves that much. And even if we’re dull, we’ll probably be threatening for a European spot at the end of the season, something that didn’t happen under Houllier. After an early run of reasonably easy matches yielded no losses, albeit only two wins, the match against Man City on Oct. 15 is our first one that we should probably lose. How will the team react?
Match grade: A-
Liverpool’s official site just announced that they have agreed a fee for Aston Villa’s Stewart Downing to which I say BLLLAAAAHH. I don’t understand the logic of making the point that a player is “not for sale” and then selling him a couple days later – it seems shady, though you can make that case about several of the transfer and managerial dealings Villa have done in the past few months. I can only assume that means that Liverpool agreed to pay at least the 20 million pounds Villa had reportedly asked for at some point.
Moving forward, this likely means that Aston Villa will close a deal for Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia, and it also makes you wonder what the endgame is for a Liverpool team that seems likely to sell arguable their best player last season (Raul Meireles) for a relatively paltry amount of money while picking up a bunch of players that don’t necessarily seem like THAT much of an improvement (Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, really?). I guess we’ll see what happens.
Arsenal v Wigan Athletic: The Gunners helped erase their two-match losing streak with an occasionally impressive win over Aston Villa, in which they dominated for long periods, but still conceded twice and seemed nervy for most of the second half. Manager Arsene Wenger seems to more intent on getting something out of the Carling Cup this year, so don’t expect to see a starting 11 of youth players like cup teams of years past. Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott all figure to get some playing time, though Arsenal will still be without Cesc Fabregas or Abou Diaby. For Wigan, their hope is just to soak up Arsenal pressure and pull of a shock win, though they’ll have to do it without Hugo Rodallega, serving a three-match suspension, or Tom Cleverly, who is ineligible to play cup matches as part of his loan agreement. Manager Roberto Martinez did say he hoped to make Wigan the “Arsenal of the North,” and we wish him luck with that, though he might be doing it in the Championship next year.
Form guide: Arsenal, 3-0-2, 10 goals scored, 8 goals conceded; Wigan, 1-1-3, 4 gs, 8 gc
Prediction: Arsenal 3, Wigan 0
West Ham v. Manchester United: This match pits the bottom of the table against the top of the table. West Ham have been pretty terrible this season, but managed to get a stay of execution for manager Avram Grant in their most recent match with a win over Wigan. Grant will probably rest some players and make improving their Premiership play the priority. Injuries to midfielders may force Grant to start US defender Jonathan Spector in midfield for the first time in his career. Manchester United has yet to suffer a defeat this season, but have been perhaps the least convincing Red Devils squad in recent memory. It remains to be seen whether their 7-1 demolition of Blackburn at the weekend is a reflection of newfound dominance or how terrible Blackburn is. Dimitar Berbatov might be rested or on the bench after scoring five goals against Rovers, giving Javier Hernandez another chance to shine in front of goal. Edwin Van Der Sar will also probably be rested.
Form guide: West Ham, 1-3-1, 7 goals scored, 8 conceded; Manchester United, 3-2-0, 12 gs, 3 gc
Prediction: West Ham 1, Manchester United 2
Birmingham v Aston Villa. Birmingham is hoping that Wednesday’s Carling Cup match will be a chance to end the recent string of dominance by Villa in this derby, having not won a match between the two since 2005. They have particularly struggled in cup matches against the Villans, having never scored in five matches played. City fans will think this year is a particularly good chance to end the string against a Villa team that is below them in the Premiership table and is facing an injury crisis with the likes of Jonathan Hogg drafted into the first team for matches this season. Alexandr Hleb will miss the match through injury, so former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner, City’s top scorer this season, will likely replace him in midfield. City Manager Alex McLeish said he would field a stronger side than in previous Carling Cup rounds. For last season’s finalists Villa, striker Gabriel Agbonlahor will likely return after missing the loss to Arsenal at the weekend. Manager Gerard Houllier is hoping that Villa’s strike force – which has only scored three goals in total this season in league play, will start scoring. Young winger Marc Albrighton is still missing after having his appendix taken out.
Form guide: Birmingham, 1-3-1, 6 goals scored, 6 goals conceded; Aston Villa, 1-2-2, 8 gs, 11 gc
Prediction: Birmingham 1, Aston Villa 0
Ipswich Town v. West Brom. Ipswich, the lone Championship team still in the Carling Cup, and manager Roy Keane will be forced to field an under-strength side for the cup game in the wake of their recent struggles in Championship play, where they have lost eight of their last 12 matches. Keane will be without the services of the team’s four loan signees and is dealing with injury problems. For West Brom, who ended a poor run of three losses in four matches with an impressive 4-1 win against Everton, Youssef Mulumbu will be missing through suspension, which probably means Somen Tchoyi, who has scored three goals in his last five matches, will probably step in again in midfield.
Form guide: Ipswich Town, 1-0-4, 4 goals scored, 11 conceded; West Brom, 1-1-3, 6 gs, 9 gc
Prediction: Ipswich Town 0, West Brom 2