If I was an Aston Villa fan, I think I would be approaching winter with more than a touch of trepidation.
And not just because the supporters on the Holte End find their team in the bottom three as we head towards December – it is more the manner in which they find themselves there that is going to concern all those involved at Villa Park.
I was one of those who thought the appointment of Paul Lambert was a masterstoke after the dismal reign of Alex McLeish, where the standard of football was just as unpalatable as the results.
It may well still prove to be an inspired decision – Lambert has a great track record and looks like a man who knows what he is doing – but at the moment he is struggling to get anything out of this Aston Villa side and languishing in 18th place at the end of November was not in the script.
But it isn’t just the fact that they are there, it is that they deserve to be there. Only Reading and QPR have won fewer games than Villa’s two league victories, while only Rangers and Southampton have lost more matches.
Only Norwich and the R’s have scored fewer goals than Villa’s ten and only QPR and the Saints have conceded more. Predictably, only rock-bottom QPR have a worse goal difference.
Put it all together and it makes for shockingly grim reading and with statistics like that, you’re only heading one way.
It isn’t what the Villa fans, nor most people for that matter, expected when Lambert jumped ship from Norwich, but I think there has been a serious overestimation of the playing staff at Aston Villa, because looking at the squad I don’t see enough quality to suggest it is going to be anything other than a battle in the bottom six all year.
To be fair to Lambert, Villa have been in decline since owner Randy Lerner tightened the purse strings, which led Martin O’Neill to leave in a strop. Gerard Houllier and McLeish were both disastrous appointments and it has left the Scot with a squad of untried youngsters and senior pros living off big reputations and even bigger pay packets who are offering next to nothing (Darren Bent, anyone?)
So it’s a season of struggle and I don’t expect any respite for the Villans when Arsenal visit Birmingham on Saturday evening. Villa are 4/1 to pick up three points, with the draw at 14/5 and the Gunners at 13/20.
Those are the sort of prices that I would normally be looking to oppose Arsenal with – I don’t like odds-on away pokes in any event, especially when the team in question are as erratic as Arsene Wenger’s side – but I just can’t be backing Villa against anybody at the moment, even at home.
Only QPR have picked up fewer points over the last six games than Villa and we know what type of dire straits they are in.
Arsenal had an uncharacteristically routine and mundane night in the Champions League in midweek, beating Montpellier 2-0 at the Emirates to secure their passage through to the last 16 of the competition for the 13th consecutive year, and the performance of Jack Wilshere was a huge plus for Wenger as he looks to get back into the top four of the Premier League.
Wilshere’s return to form is vital to Arsenal’s season and with the England international nearing his best again (according to Wenger) Arsenal should be a more backable proposition and I don’t see them making any mistakes against Villa.
But I’m not having the 13/20, so I’ll take the 27/20 Arsenal win a match that sees over 2.5 goals. That clean sheet against Montpellier was a rare one for the Gunners (their second in 16 games) and I still fancy them to concede a goal: Villa have scored in every home match this season, after all.
However, Arsenal have too much quality and have found their shooting boots, hitting 12 in the last four games. Wenger’s men have a great record at Villa Park, too, and haven’t lost in their last 12 trips. They won’t be losing this one either and I like the look of that 27/20.