Thomas Vermaelen is surprised by Aston Villa's lowly position in this season's Premier League table.
Arsenal's next opponents have not been out of the top flight since 1988, but stand just above the relegation zone. With nearest rivals Reading and Wigan meeting on Saturday, defeat at Emirates Stadium could see Villa enter the bottom three.
Vermaelen, though, sees positive signs in Villa's plight.
"I'm surprised they have struggled this season," he told the official matchday programme.
"I’ve watched them several times and have seen them put in some really good performances, scoring some nice goals. Their game at West Brom a few weeks back sticks in the memory, and they were very unlucky to lose 3-2 to Manchester United earlier in the season after going two up.
"They’ve gone with a young team and I think that’s been the difference this year. What pleases me about them is that their manager, Paul Lambert, has been given time.
"He has a fairly inexperienced team and it’s refreshing to see that he has been allowed to work with the players, developing them, rather than having to look only at the short term. Other clubs have sacked their managers very quickly and I’m glad Villa have not."
One man in particularly fine form for Villa is forward Christian Benteke. The Belgian moved from Genk in August as a relative unknown, but has since scored 15 goals for his new club - including six in his last five games.
"I know him well through working with him in the Belgium national team," said Vermaelen.
"He’s scored some important goals for us recently against Serbia and Scotland. He is still young, and I’d describe him as an ‘English’ kind of striker - good in the air, timing his jumps well, strong and improving technically.
"I think he’ll only keep improving, and I am really happy for him - but I hope we can keep him quiet this weekend."
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