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Let It Bleed

It feels as though I have been saying this every single week since around October, but in a nutshell, the season really does begin here. I`ve pored over our own weaknesses in lugubrious detail here in recent weeks, but the manager and the players should now be casting an ebullient eye on the weaknesses that their rivals are displaying. The appointment of Hiidink, in the short term, means Chelsea are not really catchable for us now nor should we trouble ourselves too much looking at their results. The long term may be a different picture; "long term" certainly is not a phrase that appears to enter the vocabulary of Roman Abramovic ("eh Roman, what is the Russian for durability?"). Hiidink`s installation at Stamford Bridge means that the world`s three finest football coaches are all plying a trade in England`s top flight now in my humble opinion. He will give Chelsea more than enough short term boon to surpass ourselves, Villa and probably Liverpool. However, the last couple of weeks have seen Aston Villa lift their stockings to reveal a scab. We must pick on it until it bleeds.

In the last fortnight, Villa have all but surrendered two cup competitions so much is the battle for 4th playing on their minds. That betrays any confidence that O`Neill might affirm he has in his squad, Arsenal meanwhile pledge to carry the fight on three fronts; the race for fourth, the F.A. Cup and the Champions League. Wenger can demonstrably point to the fact that he ahs more faith in his squad than O`Neill has in his, despite Arsene being shorn of several key players. Arsenal players should, firstly, draw a huge amount of belief from that. Many of us believe Wenger`s faith might well have been misplaced in certain places, but you can`t argue with the man`s conviction in the regularly lampooned Song, Bendtner and Eboue. O`Neill`s team selection last night in Moscow revealed that he is terrified of the prospect of injury to one of his key players and that he does not feel he could trust his squad if he had the sort of fitness quandary that Wenger has had. The second thing the players need to do is repay that faith, they owe it to their manager. Perhaps the likes of Eboue and Diaby have made a rod for their own backs with their performances on Tuesday night, but they have shown us they were capable. Many of us, myself very much included, had forgotten that the aforementioned even had the ability. Both showed that when they play with a little more urgency and conviction that they are infinitely more capable than they have been showing us in this campaign. It is up to them and others to call on that ability more often now. No more cheating themselves, the supporters or their manager.

O`Neill`s surrender in cup competitions in recent weeks shows that Champions League qualification is playing on his mind, by letting go against Everton and particularly CSKA, that doubt might just transmit itself. Villa have put all of their eggs in one lucrative basket now and their season will be looked upon as such a failure if they do not finish 4th. Unthinkable really as the bouquets have rightly been lavished on O`Neill and his team who have been outstanding to this point, but O`Neill has shown that he has considered failure, the thought has entered his mind and sometimes that is enough. Wenger meanwhile, no matter how myopic and shrouded in bias it appears from the outside, the Arsenal manager shows no such doubt. Not outwardly anyway. He is "convinced" we will qualify for the Champions League, he "doesn`t worry about it" he is "certain." If psychological factors have any small and piffling part to play in who grabs the 4th spot, you have to say Arsene is gearing his charges up better than O`Neill. The Villa manager made a crucial mistake in selecting a shadow side in Moscow, it is a decision he has admitted he has doubts about.

"I made the decisions at the time and I have to stick by it.
'Three games in six days does take its toll and it's important to look at the bigger picture.
'The owner has entrusted me to make these decisions and for better or worse I have done so.'

As well as showing the tiniest chinks of doubt in otherwise impressive armour, O`Neill has skewed his objectives in sacrificing the UEFA Cup at the altar of Champions League qualification. He has surrendered European competition this season in the interests of securing qualification for European competition? There is the argument that winning breeds winning and confidence and momentum being big factors, but Villa have shown a lack of appetite for Europe because they do not believe they can handle it, you have to ask what kind of message that transmits to the players. I really fail to understand why teams bust an absolute gut qualifying for Europe, only to whine about what a terrible distraction it all is once they get there. Villa entered the Intertoto Cup last summer in order to gain entry to the UEFA Cup, beginning their long season back in July and now they are discarding its importance.

Arsenal is a side that belongs in the Champions League, more so than it does in the Premiership in fact. Whilst the blistering, pyrotechnic football of the Invincibles blew the Premiership apart, Europe`s more considered sides negated it quite easily. I sometimes wonder if the current Arsenal side has been deliberately built for Champions League success in the light of Chelsea`s billions. The slow, slow, quick, quick, slow style of the current side is more suited to the continent. It is interesting that Fabregas rules the roost in European midfields more than Vieira ever did whilst Gallas` command over his back four looks more imperious than the immense Sol Campbell`s ever was. Whilst domestically most fixtures fill me with fraught anxiety nowadays, I am always confident with Arsenal in Europe and always consider us a very good bet to win the competition in September. This represents a 100% inversion on the state of play five years ago.

Wenger always physically conditions his sides to be strong in the spring and with Villa having started their season six weeks earlier than us, we really have to make at looking this count. In fairness, the Villains have shown little proclivity towards fatigue thus far this season, but we are at the business end of matters now. Fatigue is as much mental as it is physical and when the manager begins to talk about "resting" players ad nauseam, he plants a seed in their minds. Arsenal on the other hand, all things being equal should be able to call upon a fresh and fit again Theo Walcott who, though still raw and inconsistent, can provide moments of magic. Eduardo has not forgotten how to finish and he could be an equally invaluable weapon from the substitutes bench, the more we play Nasri centrally the better he looks and I think this has to become a regular feature until the injury blemishes clear up. Bendtner may not be everybody`s favourite but he has shown he knows where the goal is, Villa`s equivalent squad player is Marlon Harewood. Villa have been outstanding all season and thoroughly deserve to be where they are and have outstripped Arsenal in pretty much every department this season so far. But "so far" is a revealing caveat, MON is an excellent manager but he has shown the very slightest glimpses of weakness in recent weeks. Aston Villa have been a worthy and commendable adversary thus far, but self doubt has crept in, we must now show the self belief to capitalise. Starting tomorrow. If we do not win against Fulham tomorrow, I am afraid we are officially boned.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday February 27 2009

Time: 12:00PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Excellent article Tim, very astute indeed. Infact we should email it to AW and tell him to aim a few digs MON's way. O'Neil is a great manager but he's a passionate one who's easily riled, infact I think he's another Keegan waiting to happen (that's the extrordinary outburst not being a ***** manager). If we can win our next couple of games and hope Villa drop a point or two it will be game well and truly on.
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27/02/2009 12:43:00

More of a Sticky Fingers man myself... think you're discrediting O'Neill there Rocky, he's infinitely smarter than Keegan. Although the cracks have begun to appear with Villa, they're out of all cups now... and will just be concentrating on the league. It's just so frustrating that we've played them twice.
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27/02/2009 13:53:00

Unfortunatly i cant see Villa drop points tommorow. If we were to draw against Fulhan then 8 points would be beyond us in 11 games i think. Anyway lets be positive and hope Stoke can keep 10 behind the ball and get a 0-0.
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27/02/2009 14:12:00

Right on cue Mr. W. From today's press conference: "In football, nothing is unthinkable, but I am confident we will make the Champions League," he said. "There are 12 games to go. If we keep our consistency, spirit and attitude, and our focus, we will make it. "It is down to us to be consistent. "We have 36 points to take, so lets not speculate too much on the weakness of any other team. If we win our games, we will be there." Wenger added: "I never consider failure. With the potential of our players and everything at the club, I have more reasons to be an optimist than a pessimist."
Little Dutch
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27/02/2009 14:45:00

Diaby is now fit for tommorow. This world never ceases to amaze me
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27/02/2009 15:08:00

Wonderful article LD. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Diaby being fit tomorrow is a huge boost for us.
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27/02/2009 15:40:00

Not if he doesn't try hard GK, like he does 70% of the time.
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27/02/2009 16:00:00

can Villa cope with the pressure,because as far as everyone else is concerned they have already qualified at our expense. but look at their recent form,it doesnt look too good,i really believe that one more bad result for them will be the catalist for the inevitable implosion, and i feel that MON knows that too.also i think that a team that is scared of competing in a European competition doesnt deserve to qualify for one, and why hasnt the media started chipping away at them, like that have against us
fran merida
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27/02/2009 16:40:00

Excellent, LD, esp. your point about teams killing themselves to qualify for Europe and then treating it as a nuisance once they finally get there. It's farcical. I have a lot of respect for O'Neill and Villa generally, I think they deserve to be where they are right now. But it's up to us to capitalize on any signs of weakness. I am very glad to hear Diaby is fit because if AW puts out Denilson&Song in midfield again, WE WILL GET ANOTHER 0-0 DRAW. Fulham are the 0-0 kings of the PL, esp. away. It's going to be another park-the-bus nightmare like Sunderland. Fielding two DMs is not the way to go against such teams. Denilson&Diaby are a good midfield pairing.
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27/02/2009 16:45:00

Lets not forget our best player, Arshavin. The guy is the player we have lacked all season.
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27/02/2009 18:14:00

Almunia Sagna Toure Gallas Clichy Diaby Denilson Eboue Nasri Arshavin Van Persie Or do you think he'll stick with Bendy??
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27/02/2009 19:01:00

Arshavin right, Bendtner left, Nasri in behind.
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27/02/2009 19:02:00

Good Read =] + i got a bad feeling its gonna back fire on us, =[ Villa Fan
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27/02/2009 23:54:00

Good article LD. We seem to have dropped off the radar screen at the moment, and as you said before our players have stopped saying the tripe; or should i say allowing tripe to be written about them. We seem to have built a defense, that apart from a few moments of concern in general have stopped leaking goals in set pieces. Kolo who has been missing is now combining well with Gallas. I still feel we should continue to have Nick upfront, and hope his confidence will turn those missed chances into goals; it will happen. AA I think will be spark that may get that all important first goal, which will open up sides and become the catalysis for more goals. In the past we were unable to defend that position but with the now somewhat solid defense a more balanced team seems to be emerging. Go you gunners
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28/02/2009 00:51:00

This is the CLOSEST they mght ever, and I mean EVER come to a top four finish so can't blame MON for making these decisions for his team. The league is and has always been the HOLY GRAIL.
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28/02/2009 03:48:00

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28/02/2009 17:05:00

Don't let the facts get in the way of your fantasy there boys. We threw the cups because we couldn't assemble a big enough squad to compete on all fronts, not because we're scared. CL is so much more important than a poxy UEFA Cup under it's current incarnation. MON is just playing the odds, and he thinks that concentrating on 3rd place is more important. Hopefully in future seasons with a bigger squad we won't need such action, but in the meantime I for one accept it (and suggested it would be so 3 months ago).
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28/02/2009 22:52:00

Calm down villa fans - this article was born out of desperation more than anything else, we are all living in hope as all true fans should. However other than a dramatic collapse or a couple of key injuries then i genuinely feel that after fulham we've practically gift wrapped and handed 4th spot to you. Our run in includes a trip to Anfield and Old Trafford and Chelsea still need to come to the Emirates and from my stats our season shows a shocking 3 back to back wins at best and to expect it to all change in the last 11 games is as i said cos we are all living in hope and if my fellow gooners cant see how being out of the cup competitions can only benefit Villa at the business end of the season thats because as i said we are all living in hope - one sad gooner :(
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01/03/2009 01:19:00

Great article, enjoyed reading it even though i'm a Man.City fan. I think you've blown 4th place but i still fancy your chances in the CL.
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01/03/2009 06:47:00

The only thing MON did regarding the UEFA Cup was protect his too-small squad, therefore protecting the far more important job (long term of course) of ensuring Villa finish in 4th place, or even higher. Hoping that today the boys can show what a short rest can do for them, and see us climb back one point shy off 2nd, and 8th points clear of you guys. I believe that 3 points today will almost guarentee us 4th, or at least be a massive massive step in securing the all important 4th spot.
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01/03/2009 08:21:00

Not a forgone conclusion for us Villans today, we've had a few opportunities to take advantage of days where results have been kind to us, only to draw BUT I am hoping they do get the 3 points today, mainly because I felt what he did in the UEFA was an insult which I'll take a while to get over to be honest! If you don't want to be in a comp like that, don't enter it. I do think the pressure is now on him and the team and they know it, hopefully that means they'll come out all guns blazing. Still got some tough games coming up though, including Liverpool who we could beat and Man Utd at Old Trafford who unfortunately we never beat!
The Fear
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01/03/2009 10:51:00

Let it bleed you say, but we can only do that when we see some green shoots of recovery of our own, and in the league that's not happening. Only a bit of a miracle or Wenger doing something different can make a change. The only positive I can see today is that both Villa and us have still to play the big clubs, and we perform better than them against the big boys, so I guess there is just a glimmer of hope.
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01/03/2009 13:59:00

Hardly surrendered in the FA Cup you know we were put out by a very good Everton team, that same team will be passing you in the league table any day now. You need to wake up and smell the coffee....
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01/03/2009 14:23:00

Well surprise, surprise. Aston Villa 1-0 Stoke at HT.
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01/03/2009 15:54:00

That game finished 2:2 with Stoke scoring 2 goals in the last few mins. Thank You Stoke!
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01/03/2009 18:34:00

villa last 5 games read played 5 lost 3 drawn 2...and its going to get worse...hopefully
fran merida
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02/03/2009 00:34:00

It looks like nobody wants the 4th spot.
Little Dutch
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02/03/2009 08:43:00

A decent weekend alround. The scum lost a cupfinal - Nice! Villa drop points - Nice! We keep another clean sheet. Positive thinking is required.
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02/03/2009 12:21:00

How are Arsenal expected to win when you can't score?
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02/03/2009 16:43:00

LD......."make at looking this count" Great article they buckled when they had 3 in the bag...more nerves
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02/03/2009 21:42:00

We (City) will do our best to help you with fixtures against Villa and Chelsea this week.
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03/03/2009 07:19:00

Broke my ribs and missed the final. Anyway I don't think we will grab 4th place with our current form. Yeah Chelsea and Villa have made slip ups but we are not capitalising on it.
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03/03/2009 12:22:00

Funny how quickly it can change- due to Villa's draw against Stoke we were left 6 pts behind rather than 8 pts with 11 to play. Now if Man City can do us a favour today, self-doubt will be seeping into the Villa squad, and it's 3 pts behind with 10 to play- hardly looking insurmountable any more, is it.
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04/03/2009 15:13:00

Good piece LD. Event though Villa is racked by doubt, so are we from the looks of it. If we could have got all 3 points against Fulham and Sunderland, then the gap would be much lesser now. Lets hope Villa drop points again tonight, although that looks unlikely to me. With the gap at 6 pts (if Villa win tonight), things are getting interesting. I had lost all hope for 4th place after the Sunderland game, but with the West Brom result, there's just a faint glimmer of hope now.
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04/03/2009 16:46:00

Man City 2-0 Villa, full time. As suggested, Villa has never been there before and is hearing footsteps. . . If this doesn't inspire the Gunners for the last 10 matches, nothing will.
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04/03/2009 21:34:00


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