BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Mikel Arteta of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal at Villa Park on December 21, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup 4th round clash with Aston Villa, Aaron Campeau of SBNation's Aston Villa blog 7500 to Holte was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his club and the match. Thanks much to Aaron! Here we go:
1.) New loanee Robbie Keane scored twice in his first full match for Villa against Wolves. Are you excited to have him? What does he offer to Villa alongside or in place of Darren Bent?
I think Robbie Keane is still a decent player and I'm glad he'll be around for a few months, but to say I'm excited would be a pretty serious overstatement. For one, he is an LA Galaxy player and his performing well makes me nervous for the coming MLS season. For another, he's leaving soon and though it's nice to get some production while he's here every goal is a reminder that with Villa's current austerity drive two months of the fifth best player on an MLS team is the best we can do.
2.) There has been some speculation that James Collins, Emile Heskey, Habib Beye, and Carlos Cuellar could all be out the door in summer. Heskey and Beye probably wouldn't kill Villa to lose, but are you more worried about losing Collins and Cuellar? Or all four?
I'm hopeful that Collins moves on; it's not that he's a bad player, it's that he's a slightly less effective version of Richard Dunne. Having one of those guys in central defense is great; having two of them is not so great. The issue, of course, if that Alex McLeish likes defenders in the Collins mold and would likely just buy another to replace him, but at least that one may be capable of passing the ball on the ground, or at least to a specific person. Ideally, I'd like to see Collins stick around until the end of the year and for Ciaran Clark to move into central defense, but whether that happens depends upon whether McLeish is playing him in midfield because he doesn't quite trust his defense but wants him on the pitch or whether he sees that as his best position going forward.
Cuellar leaving is something I've resigned myself to. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him leave before the January window closes, though with Rangers current financial troubles it seems a bit less likely than before. Carlos is the kind of player that most people don't think of as being especially valuable until they're not around any more; he's capable of playing both centrally and at right back, he offers something different than either Collins or Dunne and he's completely dependable. Cuellar doesn't really 'wow' a lot of people, but I don't think I've ever seen him have a bad game. It's not going to cripple Villa or anything, but there will be times when someone gets hurt and people will realize it was nice having him around.
3.) Related to that, what do you see as Aston Villa's greatest needs given their current tactical setup, and do you think that Alex McLeish has some players in mind, or does he just have a strange head?
Creativity. Darren Bent is one of the best poachers in the world, but that's just about all he does. Fine when he's getting adequate service, but that hasn't really been the case. N'Zogbia is a really good player, but he's also very different than Stewart Downing; he defends well on the wing, is very dangerous in space and is great at taking on defenders, but he's far from a playmaker. Marc Albrighton remembering how to play football has helped, but he's so inconsistent. Gabby Agbonlahor has shown some flair and vision this season, but no one will ever confuse him for a real #10. And Barry Bannan, who is the most clever little bastard on the team by miles, never plays. Given the style Villa play they could really do with a genuine deep-lying playmaker; you put someone capable of finding runs from deep in midfield and with the speed of Gabby and Bent Villa will score a lot of goals. I think Bannan could be that kind of player, but McLeish seems unwilling to play without two holding midfielders. I really hope he reconsiders.
I'm sure he has future targets in mind, because if Villa finish above the bottom five and the wage bill has been slashed to the board's liking he'll have some money to spend. In all honestly, I would prefer not to speculate on who those players might be, because it makes me sad.
4.) Describe in words only the good things you feel about Eric Lichaj.
I would prefer to express my feelings through the medium of interpretive dance, but that probably won't work for these purposes. I honestly cannot explain why I have the deep level of affection for Eric Lichaj that I do; he's a good young player (I think he's way, way better than Alan Hutton and should be considered the left back of the future for the USMNT) but in my mind he's like a more handsome, less disagreeable Sergio Ramos. I am capable of being objective about his abilities and shortcomings, but when I do so it feels like I have an ice cream headache.
5.) Who do you think will feature for Villa on Sunday, and do you have a prediction?
It's going to be whatever the hell Alex McLeish thinks is his best XI this week. Warnock, Collins, Dunne and Hutton will almost certainly be the defense. Bent is a given. There's no way Keane doesn't play after his performance against Wolves. Petrov will be in midfield; whether it's Clark or Ireland beside him is anyone's guess, but I'd prefer to see Clark because Ireland is way, way better playing behind the striker. Agbonlahor will play wide, most likely; whether it's N'Zogbia or Albrighton that end up benched is anyone's guess. The only really surprising thing I could see happening (barring injury or something of that nature) would be Brad Guzan starting in goal. He played really well while Shay Given was injured, and he's understandably frustrated that he's back on the bench. Villa want to keep him around, and I could see McLeish throwing him a bone.
As for predictions, I'll say 2-1 Arsenal. But Villa really have been playing a lot better over the past month or so, and I do not have the same sense of dread before this game that I likely would have earlier in the season. I can actually see this one being fun.