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Aston Villa Vs. Arsenal: Chat With Ted Harwood Of The Short Fuse

In between watching oversized balloons bob down 34th Street and preparing cranberry sauce, Ted Harwood and I had a nice chat about the Aston Villa-Arsenal match coming up on Saturday. Both teams suffered let downs last week, with the Gunners going up 2-0 on Tottenham Hotspur before eventually losing the North London Derby 3-2. Then on Tuesday, Arsenal lost their Champions League group stage match against Braga, 2-0. Villa fortunately had just one poor result to deal with, the 2-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers, but now must cope with Marc Albrighton's appendicitis. Because I'm absolutely terrified of the match against Arsenal, I chose to keep the questions nice and light.

For more on Arsenal, visit The Short Fuse, where Ted is nice enough to let me hang out and talk about SamiArse™

Also, find my views on the match over there.

1) Is Arsene Wenger really so arrogant that he believes he can put Cesc Fabregas--still recovering from an injury--on the field and not have him break once again? Is he that desperate to win a trophy?

Well, Paul Doyle in the Guardian asked that same question, and he pointed out that Wenger had a history of doing the same with Thierry Henry.  I don't think it's a question of arrogance so much as it is one of an overbearing belief in talismanic players.  Wenger often talks about players that can "make a difference", usually meaning either Fabregas or Andrei Arshavin.  And it is true that Fabregas offers the most weapons of any of our midfield players.  Wenger seems to have learned his lesson, though, as he said he will be extra-cautious with Fabregas going forward.

2) Meerkats. What are they good for?

A list, in no particular order: scoring four goals at Anfield, dancing around Blackburn's defense with eight stitches in his foot, answering Q&As, making fun of Nicklas Bendtner...I could go on.

3) Does Samir Nasri have the best arse in football? How can the Villa protect themselves from him?

You're probably better off tackling that first question than I am, but as for Aston Villa, I might suggest stacking up injured players like Carlos Cuellar, John Carew, and Emile Heskey in front of the goal.  I really don't know.  Nasri's been outstanding this year.  He doesn't quite have the range of passing that Fabregas or Tomas Rosicky have, but his overall attacking threat, his shooting, his dribbling, and his positioning, coupled with a strong desire and a bit of a mean streak, have really come together this year.  His goal against Manchester City made my eyes well up.

4) Brian Glanville once wrote: "Soccer became almost an exhibition, a sort of competitive ballet, in which scoring goals was no more than the excuse for the weaving of a hundred intricate patterns." Is this a fair description of last week's match against Spurs? Of any Arsenal match? Or is this just the perception the public wants to cling to?

I think it's kind of a false perception.  What gets lost in all the talk of ballet is that Arsenal are joint top scorers in the league this year, with 28 goals in 14 matches (Chelsea and Manchester United also have 28).  Arsenal scored 12 goals in their first three Champions League matches.  So Arsenal do score.  Their goals just happen to come in the midst of a sort of long string of possession and passing that seems to be going nowhere, at least when contrasted to the direct play that many English clubs employ.  That direct play looks more positive maybe, because it's faster and headed in a definite goalward direction.  I think most Arsenal fans would concede that if that type of play isn't working, the team has trouble finding different ways to score sometimes against determined opponents (e.g. the loss at Newcastle or to West Brom at home).

5) Finally, what's with all the red cards? Arsenal seem to have resorted to desperate tactics this season.

Well, only one of them was for dangerous play (Jack Wilshere).  The others have been for last man goal-denying tackles or for accumulated yellows.  For me, the fair play table is pretty meaningless, because the standard of refereeing is so different depending on the man in charge, and it tells people absolutely nothing about the relative "dirtiness" of a team.  Lots of journalists and opposition fans have used the fair play table as a hammer to beat Arsenal with, saying that Arsenal are now "dirty" or "cheap" or "like the old days", but I don't think that's the case, really.

What IS true is that our tendency to push forward a lot with our defenders and defensive midfielders means that we more often have to tackle someone to stop a counter from building.

6) [From Robert]* The outside-Arsenal world seems to be getting very cynical about Arsène Wenger. What's the feeling about the gaffer within the Arsenal community?  I'm just curious to know.

Well, it depends on which blog one reads.  There is no denying that a section of Arsenal supporters think that his ideas no longer work and that he is too one-dimensional in his thinking, and that other teams have figured out how to stop his strategies.  There is another, still vastly larger (although quieter) section of fans, of which I am one, that 1) couldn't possibly name a successor that would do as well, 2) realizes that Wenger's been working with limited financial resources for five years, 3) knows that nobody on earth cares more or gets more frustrated when things don't go right than does Wenger.  It's true that there are things that he hasn't seemed to figure out with this squad yet, such as defensive solidity, but he's put together a team that competes regularly for top honors in all competitions for very little monetary outlay.  I mean, the man has qualified for the Champions League for like, 13 straight seasons, which nobody besides Real Madrid has managed in that same timeframe, so as far as I'm concerned, until he really starts slipping up or retires, it's not even an issue.  I think 90% of Arsenal fans feel the same way, really, even while acknowledging his possible shortcomings.

*No, we're not just all sitting around having a big blogger Thanksgiving. Although that might be rather fun in a very nerdy sort of way. And at least wouldn't involve crazy families.