Thanks to Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over FA Cup winner Wigan, Aston Villa get yet another reprieve from a possible relegation from the Premier League. I’m actually a little sad to see Wigan go (and not just because they’re this guy’s favorite team.) Along with playing a fairly attractive style of attacking soccer, Wigan have long been one of the smallest budget teams in the Premier League. Unfortunately, it’s likely that they’ll be replaced by one, if not two teams that could potentially play the boom (Manchester City) or bust (Queens Park Rangers/Portsmouth) strategy of throwing money at the club ’til they either finish in a European place or go insolvent. Meanwhile, Wigan will try to hang onto Roberto Martinez as manager, and failing that, will likely become one of the other clubs to fall under the spell of journeymen managers such as Steve McLaren or Alex McLeish and watch their fanbase shrink amid mediocrity, away trips to the likes of Brighton and Barnsley and long-ball football. Sorry, Dorian, but at least you won some silverware.
So where does that leave Villa, who haven’t been shy about throwing money at the team in the hope of success (some of which we got, middlingly) before gradually the well spring dried up? Well, hopefully better off. Now that our sky high wage bill has been trimmed significantly and the team has begun to cultivate its much-ballyhooed academy into actually producing some starters, I feel like we could see our first mid-table finish in three years in 2014. This will obviously depend on the club holding onto the likes of Christian Benteke, who won’t be short of suitors, but might cost a bit too much for a player that could still be a flash in the pan (though I don’t think he is.) A couple positions need to be strengthened – Shay Given is almost certainly on the way out, so we need a new backup keeper or someone to challenge Brad Guzan for No. 1. Joe Bennett has either been horrendous or just not very good, depending on how optimistic Aston Villa fans are. Regardless, he, nor Eric Lichaj, seems quite ready to be a day-in-day-out starter, so someone new should be coming in. And with Benteke unlikely to stay with the club beyond 2014 unless Villa make a serious push for Europe, reinforcements in attack won’t be a bad idea. A bit of deadwood needs to be chopped as well. Richard Dunne will leave after not playing a match this season, no doubt to suddenly be healthy enough to play for a club like Stoke or Sunderland. Charles N’Zogbia and Stephen Ireland showed flashes of brilliance in the last two season, but neither did often enough to really justify paying their wages. And a few (though only a few) of the new signings weren’t quite up to snuff – meaning Bennett, Karim El-Ahmadi, Brett Holman and Simon Dawkins. So at least a couple of those will likely hit the road. And of course, Darren Bent is gone, though most Villa fans won’t miss him.
As for the good, the attacking trio of Benteke-Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann was certainly exciting at times. I think the midfield trio of Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Yacouba Sylla (plus the returning Gary Gardner) looks to have a bright future. And Matt Lowton and Nathan Baker could end up getting calls up to the England squad if they continue to progress. Like I said, there is hope. I don’t want to speculate on who Villa might bring in – based on Lambert’s first transfer window, probably a couple unknown young players from League One. I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan join the club as an attacking midfielder. We might not challenge for a Champions League spot … again, but a return to being a solid midtable side – best of the rest, if you will – wouldn’t be a bad thing to look forward to.