By Chris Harris

If Steven Sidwell was a few years older - or a few years younger - he might now be an Arsenal regular.

The 26-year-old was part of Arsenal's Youth Cup-winning squad in 1999 but found his route to the first-team blocked by a quartet of top-class central midfielders - Patrick Vieira, Gilberto, Edu and Ray Parlour.

With such an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, Arsène Wenger allowed Sidwell to leave for Reading in January 2003. He joined Aston Villa last summer from Chelsea and has played a vital role in his new club's surge up the Premier League table.

Wenger would prefer Sidwell to suffer a dip in form when Villa entertain Arsenal on Boxing Day but the Frenchman is delighted that his former charge has flourished since leaving North London.

"He is a good all-round player," said Wenger at his pre-match press conference.

"He is good defending, a hard defender. He goes in the box well. He is a bit similar to [Frank] Lampard in his game. He is very positive.

"I'm happy he has had a good career because we always knew he would make a career. It was difficult to assess at what level because when he was younger he had technical problems but he has improved that side of his game and is now a very good player.

"You can only play with 11, it's as simple as that. The 11 best play and at the time he was not within that [at Arsenal]. Even in the squad, it was difficult for him to get on the bench.

"At some stage, for his development, it was better for him to go and play somewhere. We don't forget - if you look at players educated here at Arsenal Football Club you will see we have produced many good players in the Premier League."

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23 Dec 2008