FOOTBALL OPINION: 'Arsenal, Aston Villa facing trouble'
This past week has seen two big clubs questioned about their ambition. Both Aston Villa and Arsenal are sides with rich histories and with large, passionate followings.
However, you can only look back at league titles and European Cup wins so much, as it’s the future all their supporters care about. And for both it doesn’t look too rosy at the moment.
Villa are in bigger trouble. Since Christmas they’ve been outplayed by fellow strugglers Wigan, Southampton and Newcastle and dumped out of both cups at the hands of lower league clubs Bradford and Millwall. I know 2013 has only just begun, but if I was a fan and looking at which way the wind was blowing I’d be wanting the year to end right now.
I know Villa manager Paul Lambert well. We went up the Scotland ranks together and played in the same Under-21 and B sides. He had a fantastic playing career winning the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund and is undoubtedly a good coach - his miracle working at Norwich City proves that.
However, the buck always stops with the manager and he’s the one that’s got to take the blame for the Birmingham side languishing in the relegation zone. It’s not easy for me to write this, as none of us want to see someone get sacked but the way things are going - it’s a young side, no leaders, shorn of any confidence at all - I’d be surprised if Paul was still Villa manager in two months time.
If he does get the boot then that in itself will rightly bring into question the judgement of Paul’s boss Randy Lerner. The mega-bucks American’s running of the club is slightly bizarre and brings into question what he wants for the team. For the past two years the men under Lerner, before Lambert it was Alex McLeish, have had to cope with cutting costs without the promise of any money to spend.
That’s got Villa fans up in arms, and while it’s no bad thing to be prudent in this day and age, you still do need to splash the odd bit of cash. But it’s clear that’s not going to happen and that brings into doubt Lerner’s commitment.
Until he decides what he wants for the club, in a very real sense Villa are lost, going in only one direction, downwards, and my old team-mate Lambert cannot be held completely responsible. For Arsenal, the situation, on paper at least, is far less grave.
However, try telling that to Gunners fans who, before last night’s fixtures, saw their side languishing in sixth and, even worse, four points behind arch-rivals Tottenham.
The situation is roughly the same as at Villa. Fans have seen their best players leave and not a similar level of talent brought in. That’s led one of Arsenal’s leading shareholders, Alisher Usmanov, to claim his team are now a feeder club. That may be stretching his point too far, but you can see where he’s coming from.
Both Villa and Arsenal must decide what their ambitions are and act accordingly rather than be dictated to by the actions and results of others. Otherwise stagnation, or even worse, will take hold, and that’s definitely not what the fans of either giants want to see.
TIME FOR MARIO TO HELP HIMSELF
So it’s time for the Premier League to say farewell to Mario Balotelli, and it’s fair to say he’ll be missed more for his antics off the pitch than on it. This season he’s scored three goals from 15 games, and one of those was a penalty.
He’ll be more remembered for such tales, tall or otherwise, as fighting with his manger, setting off fireworks inside his house, giving a homeless man a thousand pounds, driving with five times that amount sitting on the passenger seat, among others, than his talent. And that’s a shame because there’s clearly a very good player lurking somewhere in that headline-attracting frame of his. At 22-years-old he’s still young and has time on his side. However, he cannot use that excuse for much longer and has to get his head around the fact that if Roberto Mancini, who was also his boss at Inter Milan, cannot get the best out of him then the onus is on the man in the mirror to change, or face wasting his talent.
I doubt AC Milan will be as lenient in regards to his antics as City have been and it’s time he helped himself or become yet another nearly man.
QPR v. Norwich City - 1-0
Arsenal v. Stoke City - 2-0
Everton v. Aston Villa - 2-0
Newcastle United v. Chelsea - 0-1
Reading v. Sunderland - 1-3
Wigan Athletic v. Southampton - 1-0
West Ham United v. Swansea City - 2-1
Fulham v. Manchester United - 2-1
West Bromwich Albion v. Tottenham Hotspur - 1-1
Manchester City v. Liverpool - 2-0