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Season so far – Part One; Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Blackburn and Bolton

Now that we are a quarter of the way through the league games played I thought that an assessment on how each team is doing, what needs to happen to improve the position and, maybe, what positions need to be filled in January. This will be done in four parts and alphabetically.

 

Arsenal

 

Aside from two blips in Manchester the start of the season has been very impressive. The goals are plentiful and are being scored from a number of different positions, thinking Gallas and Vermaelen really. To put Arsenals start in perspective, had they beaten West Ham and the team with whom they have their game in hand, Arsenal would have gone top.

 

The danger for Arsenal comes from two areas. One is often discussed defence; if Arsenal do not score more than the other team they will more than likely lose. Sounds obvious but I think most fans know what I mean.

 

Secondly was something that Martin Tyler remarked on in commentary during the West Ham match. The psychology of the Arsenal team is that if the opposition does score then they can score two. This might be true after ten or fifteen minutes but like during the AZ or West Ham match if there is not sufficient time then goals will not be readily available. The attacking play Arsenal use cannot be turned on like a tap, unlike the log ball.

 

This could be rectified by employing the services of a more clinical striker in ‘easier’ games. Against West Ham the starting three were van Persie, Arshavin and Eboue. Would replacing one of the three with Eduardo, Vela or Bendtner would have changed the final score?

 

Aston Villa

 

A mixed start of the season for Villa: fantastic results against Chelsea and Liverpool but poor results against Wigan and Wolves. The defence is fantastic with loads of depth and so far James Collins is having a fantastic season.

 

The midfield is strong in the middle and has enough depth to cover what Martin O’Neill wants. No one is particularly creative but O’Neill either wants his players to dwell on the ball or venture into areas which they would not be welcome.

 

Where Villa would struggle is with the depth of their attacking options. Agbonlahor and Carew are a very good striking partnership, although Carew has yet to shine this season. Heskey does not help Villa; he arrived in January and they collapsed, started the first game against Wigan and they lost, was dropped and Villa have climbed the table.

 

If they choose to play a 4-5-1 and one of the wide players that can fit into the system, Milner, Young and Agbonlahor, gets injured then they are perilously close to ‘bare bones’. In addition, if they play a 4-4-2 and Agbonlahor goes down injured then will a pairing of Carew and Heskey provide enough for Villa to win.

 

In January Villa need a winger to fill the void potentially left by an injured Milner or Young.

 

Birmingham

 

Of the ten games played four have been against Man Utd, Spurs, Villa and Arsenal – almost half therefore should be unconsidered unwinnable.

 

However, the games against Bolton, Burnley and Stoke were lost and two of those were at home. I have written previously about where I thought Birminghams difficulty would be and that is in the goal scoring. Only eight goals have been scored in the league this season. Benetiz, who looks lively, has been missing during international duty and therefore a consistency has yet to be found. Once it has they I imagine the goals will come. The midfield has enough creativity to produce chances and goals will come if McLeish allows them to get into a rhythm.

 

The defence has been impressive and Lee Carlsley will become more important as the season progressed.

 

Blackburn

 

I fear for Blackburn this season. The only man that will get Blackburn out of a relegation battle is Sam Allardyce. The question has to be where the goals are going to come from. Di Santo played very well against Burnley and Dunn is having one of his best seasons but one will probably go back to Chelsea in January and the other is alongside Anderton and Redknapp in the injury prone top 100.

 

The wide midfielders, Pederson and Diouf need to start contributing more in terms of end product. However, it has been a difficult start for Blackburn as the first choice centre back partnership of Samba and Nelson has not been readily available.

 

I don’t think Blackburn will go down as there are three teams that will be worse then them…but it’s going to be tough. They need a person that will guarantee them ten goals in the second half of the season.

 

Bolton

 

I like what Gary Megson is doing at Bolton. The defensive signings in the summer were very good (Knight, Ricketts and Robinson) and the midfield looks good. I haven’t really seen enough of Bolton this season to give a more informed opinion but from what I have seen the football looks to be of a decent quality.

 

A common theme is coming out during this review and that is the goals element. Although Bolton have scored goals they have been from all areas of the pitch. That was a good thing for Arsenal, but why not Bolton? Well the reason is that these goals are ‘unexpected’ goals; Cohen was not expected to score three league goals in seven games this season. He may get to six or seven for the season but no more.

 

Bolton, like Blackburn, need a striker that can supplement the unexpected goals that will come Boltons way. Elmandar has not yet justified his price tag but Klasnic has looked lively and could be the man to provide the goals.

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Lee Dixons Tactical View

You’ll note that Dixon has echoed my earlier thoughts on Birmingham City’s striking issues, http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_prem/8253666.stm  .

Good work Lee. Hopefully now Alec McLeish will listen and Benitez will start scoring points for my Fantasy Team.

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Birmingham and their lack of goals

It must be of some concern to Alec McLeish that Birmingham have only scored one goal so far this season. Not scoring a goal against Man Utd is not something to be ashamed of, nor would scoring have been expected. However, the two home games against Portsmouth and Stoke should have yielded more than one goal.

 

This concern becomes an alarming concern considering that Larsson’s registered effort against Portsmouth was a penalty. The way in which the penalty was gained should be something that causes McLeish sleepless nights. It was not given because a Birmingham player was fouled when through on goal, nor did a player block a shot with his hand. Essentially David James fouled Larsson when he was not in a goal scoring position. Therefore, Birmingham cannot, in my mind look at the penalty as a bone fide goal – it was a lucky goal.   

 

Home games against those teams which will be struggling with Birmingham should be the occasions when goals are scored. If Birmingham are faltering in front of goal against defences that in their other away game this season shipped four then there is a problem.

 

That problem is that Alec McLeish has too much choice. McFadden, Benitez, O’Connor, Phillips and Jerome have all played up top this season and all bar Benitez have started one of the three matches. There is a lot to be said for stability within a football team and creating partnerships which can succeed. Modern day examples of partnerships succeeding include Pires and Henry, Cole and Yorke, and Gerrard and Torres. These are some of the best players to have graced the Premier League so the question is whether the examples trickle down to players not blessed with the kind of quality that the aforementioned superstars have / had.

 

Yes. One of the most successful strike partnerships in the Premier League was Phillips and Quinn. These good players were incredibly successful when paired together. Peter Reid used a tactical system which played to their respective strengths and it worked. During last season the partnership of Beattie and Fuller was a driving factor in Stoke remaining in the Premier League. Before Beattie’s arrival Stoke were flirting with relegation, having signed Beattie and playing an orthodox 4-4-2 gave Stoke the resilience to keep most teams out and score the goals needed to take all three points.

 

So, that takes us back to Birmingham and their striking choice. The only way in which they will score the goals needed to stay up is if McLeish picks a front two and allows them to develop an understanding. My thoughts would be that Benitez would be one of the two. This is for no reason other than he cost a club record amount of money and I do not believe that Messes Gold and Sullivan would be happy seeing a lot of money being wasting away on the bench. My choice for Benitez partner would be McFadden. He does have the quality to play in the Premier League (something which is questionable with O’Connor and Jerome) and is dynamic enough to work between the line and on the flanks, if needed. Furthermore, when playing without the ball, a 4-4-2 can quickly become a 4-5-1.

 

Alec McLeish needs to make his decision quickly before Birmingham play too many six pointers at home and do not find the back of the net.

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