The way I see it - Arsenal v Aston Villa

Last updated : 15 October 2004 By Jason Hogan

If there was one thing I learnt from studying economics it was that the word "Change" was one of the most powerful words in the English language today.

Whether we like it or not, change affects everyone from every walk of life somewhere down the line but ultimately it's both the timing and the SCALE of change that determines whether people are willing to accept it and eventually adapt to it. This is exactly the position all Arsenal fans find themselves in after a certain announcement that was made on the Tuesday before last.

Now I know for a fact that I am not the only Arsenal fan on God's green earth that has very mixed feelings about our impending tie-up with Emirates Airlines and all that supposedly comes with it.

From a financial point of a view it's a deal that is obviously very lucrative taking it at face value but personally there are more than one or two wary thoughts nagging away at me.

We all know that the infamous ITV Digital deal was meant to be of long term benefit to the future of clubs outside of the Premiership and we all know how that turned out. So whilst I hope that this deal does indeed provide us with a platform from which the club can keep growing only time will tell if that actually really happens.

But, most of all, I hope that in trying to move with the times and selling the naming rights to our new stadium, the Arsenal board have not taken the first step towards stripping us of our identity as a football club. In terms of tradition there is no other club like us in this country and I think that it's important that the new stadium reflects that in some way.

Our current stadium at Highbury may be relatively small compared to The Grove (as I like to call the new stadium) but just by walking through the main doors into the Marble Halls, seeing the cannon on the floor and seeing Herbert Chapman's bust it's almost as though you are confronted, almost defiantly, with a big piece of the club's history and character straight away.

My fear is that The Grove will become yet another of football's modern monoliths that may have plenty of gleaming glass, plenty of sheen and plenty of comfort (particularly for the prawn sandwich brigade) but in comparison to Highbury, it will be a cold, faceless, impersonal stadium totally devoid of character that other teams from other clubs will enjoy coming to rather than dreading it.

I think that's why most clubs who have taken the plunge and moved to brand new stadiums have struggled to turn them into fortresses. Ask any established top flight pro for example whether they would prefer to play Southampton at The Dell or at their new St Mary's stadium and it's odds on that they would plump for St Mary's.

So my message to the Arsenal board is a simple one. They may have grand ambitions for the Club but they cannot afford to totally forsake its history and tradition in pursuit of those ambitions because those are the things you can't put a price on.

Now with the internationals out of the way for a good six months (thank God) it's time to focus on the bread and butter stuff and our game with Aston Villa.

I think that it would be safe to say that David O'Leary certainly has a very unique management style. When he was in charge at Leeds he was definitely the sort of guy that lived in a glass house and threw stones.

At the same time, O'Leary always used to love going out of his way to get his excuses early, constantly referring to his Leeds side as his babies and so on and so forth.

Now, at Villa, he tries to alleviate any pressure on him or his team by constantly promoting the notion that Villa have a very small squad in need of investment.

If I was a Villa fan the question I would ask O'Leary is he knew that the squad was thin in the summer so why did he let two strikers in Marcus Allback and Peter Crouch go and why did he let defender Ronny Johnsen go as well?

Still, I've got to give O'Leary credit for the way he has worked with what he has got. He has certainly transformed the fortunes of Juan Pablo Angel that's for sure. I watched Angel play for Villa prior to O'Leary taking over and for a guy that cost £9.5 million I didn't think much of him at all.

But, when I saw Angel play in the flesh against us at Highbury last season my view had changed drastically. He played up front on his own against us for a good 70 minutes or so that night and he made sure that both Campbell and Toure knew he was around. Indeed he could have come away from the game with a couple of goals on another night. Fitness permitting, he is definitely someone that cannot be taken lightly on Saturday.

It's interesting that Lee Hendrie has come back into favour recently ahead of Thomas Hitzelsperger in central midfield but it's his midfield partner Gavin McCann that interests me more. I saw this lad play against Chelsea a few weeks back and he was absolutely outstanding. I know that he wouldn't exactly be the first name on the team sheet for a world class XI but he is as competitive a midfield player as you will get in the Premiership.

Another player that might be worth watching out for is centre half Olof Mellberg. He has shown his prowess from set pieces on more than one occasion this season already and he could profit more than most from the dead ball skills of Nobby Solano.

I have a fair bit of respect for Villa I really do. They are definitely a side that represent good each way value for a place in the top six and I think that if they fail to finish at least in the top eight I would see that as failure.

However my biggest concern from an Arsenal point of view is how quickly the lads can realign their sights after another dreaded bout of internationals.

More than that, it's vital that the players do not allow themselves to be distracted by the hype that is already building towards our trip to Old Trafford and therefore get tempted into looking past this game.

I was actually at Highbury last year when we beat this lot 2-0 but the game was closer than that scoreline suggested. Villa gave us a pretty awkward test and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Saturday's game turned out to be the same.

It would be a grave error to underestimate this lot because I think they are a capable of punishing us if we take liberties with them.