Aston Villa – I Can Hardly Wait

Yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever, it doesn’t matter when. The anticipation leading up to kick off is almost indescribable. I won’t waste time trying to find words. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you know just what I’m feeling. The difference today is that this particular fixture has taken on an entirely new meaning since 15 November, 2008.

When I took my seat at the Emirates that night – wicked seat by the way, thanks to fellow Gooner Rich – I felt no different to any other time I’d been to an Arsenal match. I was excited, pumped up and ready to go. I was equally confident, even if quietly so. My view of the opponent is always the same. I never think of losing.

I’d never seen Arsenal lose a match before, not reserves, not first team, never. We’d drawn here and there but never lost. It was a record in which I took as much pride as a non-playing participant could do.

Aston Villa were never a club that gave me much angst. I even pulled for them to win it all back in ’93 when they finished second to United. We were not even close that season, finishing 16 and 18 points behind third placed Norwich and second placed Villa, respectively. The Champions finished 28 points ahead of us. I desperately wanted someone to catch them. As long as it wasn’t Spurs, I didn’t care who did.

I’ve dealt with last season’s defeat to Martin O’Neill but let’s be clear, the bitter taste lingers even if the pain has subsided. The fact that there was a significant amount of turmoil going on inside our club at the time, some of which we’d learn more about after the fact, hasn’t helped me accept that we were soundly beaten that day.

I remember the mass hysteria amongst a large section of Arsenal fans last season as much as I do the humiliating defeats to Chelsea and United. I remember the cries for Arsene to step down. After Agbonlohor scored the second Villa goal, a guy seated near me stood up and shouted, “WHAT NOW WENGER?” The look on his face was representative of how a lot of Gooners felt. I remember having to accept another season without a trophy. It all hurt. Walking back to the tube station that night was awful.

There are a few new faces in both sides this time around. Most notably, Villa have a resurgent Richard Dunne. We have Andrey Arshavin. Alex Song was an unused sub last season. Oh how things have changed where he’s concerned.

Gareth Barry was very good for Villa that night. Agbonlohor was at his Formula 1 best. Gael Clichy and William Gallas were not. Alex Song’s and Andrey Arshavin’s presence will make a significant difference tomorrow. I also feel that Friedel is not the same keeper who kept out Thierry Henry efforts for fun over the years. He pulled off one of the best saves I’ve ever seen in this fixture last season when he palmed away a superb header by Togo. The big keeper has still got loads to offer but we’ve also seen some erosion of that ability.

There’s the pride factor on our side. Villa came into our homes and spanked us good. That needs to be addressed. We were all pretty bad that day.

I’ve called for more urgency, more heart, more commitment from our boys in recent weeks. They’ve responded but the consistency of a champion is still missing. Villa is a must, must win tomorrow. It’s a fantastic opportunity to put some distance between us and a team that can boast victories over Liverpool, Chelsea, and United.

They’ve also lost to Wigan, Blackburn, and West Ham so they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And after all, they are managed by Martin O’Neill. Nuff said!



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