By Giuseppe Muro
Arsène Wenger and his Arsenal side will bump into a familiar face at Villa Park on Saturday when they line up against Gunners legend Robert Pires.
But will the French midfielder start the game and what was the reaction like among the Villa fans when Gerard Houllier secured his signing? We spoke to Mat Kendrick from the Birmingham Mail to get an Aston Villa perspective on Saturday’s Premier League clash.
THE MAN IN CHARGE
It’s been a bit of a stop-start period really since Gerard Houllier joined the club. Villa were in a little bit of turmoil when Martin O’Neill left on the eve of the Premier League season and I think he has impressed people with the way he wants Villa to play. They are trying to play more attractive football though sadly the results haven’t followed just yet. They’ve got ten points from 27 which is not quite good enough and he acknowledges that but is confident they can turn it around sooner rather than later. I don’t think he had the wow factor when he came along because I think fans were unrealistically thinking they could get a bigger name. Some of the things he is trying to introduce and the way he is giving the younger players a chance seems to have won over a lot of the fans even if the results need improving.
MAN OF THE MOMENT
Gabriel Agbonlahor, a boyhood Villa fan, summed it up when he said ‘Pires is probably the biggest name signing that Villa have ever made’. Although he is a 37-year-old whose better days are probably behind him I think there is still an air of excitement. Villa have never had a World Cup winner among their ranks before. I’m not sure Villa fans will want to remember it but I can certainly remember a cracking goal he scored for Arsenal at Villa Park a few years ago [in 2002]. I think for six months, with the injury list Villa have got, I don’t really see anybody better than Pires that Houllier could have brought in. I think with the number of young players Villa have in the team at the moment his experience and extra bit of quality will be invaluable. I’m not sure if he will start [on Saturday] - he came on for 22 minutes against Blackburn for his debut and showed a few flashes and intelligent use of the ball. He also played in a Reserve game at the training ground on Monday for an hour so he is slowly getting there in terms of match fitness. Houllier might think it’s a bit too soon to throw him in for a start. Though I think we could see him play a large chunk of the second half depending on how the game pans out.
As he showed against Manchester United a few weeks ago Marc Albrighton an old-fashioned winger who is always on the front foot. He is always looking to take on his full back and to be fair he got the better of Patrice Evra which isn’t bad going for a 21-year-old footballer. I think sometimes without him they lack a certain kind of directness. He is a busy industrial player with pace and ability to hurt teams so it will be a blow to Villa [that he is injured] and probably works in Arsenal’s favour.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted after the game [two weeks ago] that Villa could have been about 6-0 up before United finally woke up. It was a game that showcased the good and the bad of Villa at the moment. You’ve got all these exciting players who come out and play without fear but on the flip side it was naivety and inexperience that allowed United to get back into the game. Rather than being disappointed about letting a two-goal lead slip they will take confidence from the fact that they had a team like United on the back foot for such a long time.
THE SEASON AHEAD
I think it’s a season of transition for Villa. Under Martin O’Neill they finished sixth three years in a row and were knocking on the door of the Champions League but couldn’t quite get there. Personally I don’t think they will finish as high in the league as they have done in previous seasons. It’s been 14 years since they’ve won anything, so if they can win a trophy and show how well these homegrown kids have burst through I think most fans would tolerate them falling away and finishing as low as tenth.