Aston Villa: How will the Villains line-up for trip to Arsenal?
There has been much movement throughout the division, both on the pitch and off it, that it looks set to be one of the most interesting campaigns for a number of years.
Aston Villa will be hoping to press on towards the top half of the table this season rather than looking over their shoulders for nine months.
It’s going to be incredibly hard – perhaps harder than the past two seasons when the side still only just avoided relegation – but with the young squad now a season older and wiser, they could be capable of throwing up a few surprises.
Manager Paul Lambert rode quite a storm last season sticking to his policy of playing young players, despite several bad results. But stick to his guns he did and he wasted no time this summer bringing in a host of new players in varying positions – again, all relatively young.
Now it’s decision time and Lambert must be having a few positive headaches over whom to pick, in comparison to a lot of last season – particularly in defence – when he must have been thinking, ‘who can I pick?’
In goal Lambert has three keepers to choose from in Brad Guzan, new signing Jed Steer and Shay Given. Seeing as Guzan burst on the scene last season and won a host of awards, he’s probably the safest bet to start throughout the whole squad.
Left back was a problem area and Joe Bennett looked out of his depth at times. Enda Stevens deputised well when given the chance before getting injured, but still needs to work on his game. New signing Antonio Luna can play in that position so it might be worth giving him an early shot.
Villa's defence was clearly an issue last season as they went the longest of all the Premier League clubs without managing a clean sheet. The team looked more solid with captain Ron Vlaar at the back, although he didn’t completely impress.
Everyone’s praying Ciaran Clark can live up to his obvious potential, but Villa’s other academy player Nathan Baker has arguably performed better when given the chance.
New signing Jores Okore is a strong, young player, who may be given his full debut early on, but that centre back pairing is perhaps the most crucial for deciding how Villa’s season turns out.
The midfield was also quite weak during the last campaign, but towards the end of the season Fabian Delph and Yacouba Sylla both began to impress. Ashley Westwood was one of our most consistent players, so hopefully he’ll be able to kick on once again.
One of Villa’s most promising young players is Gary Gardner, who missed most of last season with an injury, so it’s great that he’ll be challenging for a first team place again.
There have also been a few new faces added including Leandro Bacuna and Aleksandar Tonev, while we’re still hoping Marc Albrighton will one day find the form which saw him touted as a potential star of the future.
Daniel Johnson is also being given more chances and has caught the manager’s eye while Karim El Ahmadi didn’t do much wrong last year and can add strength to the midfield.
It’s vital a combination of these young, hungry players works because the manager and the fans have all but given up on the likes of Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia, who have been given plenty of chances but have not taken them.
The forward line has also been bolstered with Nicklas Helenius, who looks set to challenge for a starting place right from the start. At six-foot five-inches tall, it will be interesting to see if he can play with Christian Benteke, who is certain to start.
The front three of Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann did a lot to keep the side up last season so it will be hard for another player to break through from the start.
With Darren Bent and Nathan Delfouneso likely to leave, perhaps youngsters Graham Burke or Jordan Bowery will also find a way of contributing this season.
With such a tough start to the campaign, with games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Lambert may begin more defensively than he would normally prefer.
This, however, is how I see the team lining up:
Article by Squarefootball's Aston Villa reporter James Fisher
Calling all Villa fans: Do you agree with the starting XI selected by James? How confident are you of getting a result at Arsenal on the opening day? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.