Aston Villa face Arsenal this weekend as Remi Garde faces Arsene Wenger for the first time in the Premier League.
The pupil faces the teacher and they’ll probably share a warm embrace, there’s a mutual respect between the two, and Garde is firmly in the Wenger camp.
But there are bigger fish to fry for Garde. His side are already seven points from safety, and although they’re picking up draws here and there, they’re going to need to start winning and doing it very soon if they’re to have any chance of staying up.
It might even get to the point where the goal of this season is simply to get to a position where they’re not compared with Paul Jewell / Billy Davies’ Derby County or Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland as one of the worst Premier League teams ever. It really is getting that critical.
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The fact that Jordan Amavi is one of their best players, and is now out with a long-term injury is bad. What’s even worse is the fact that Garde’s replacement full-back is Kieran Richardson.
It’s that kind of squad fragility that sums the whole thing up for Villa. When you can’t win a football game, and you’re losing your best players, the ones you bring in either have to be pretty good or else they have to be passionate.
And that’s what Garde has to instil.
Before Arsenal’s Champions League last 16 defeat to Monaco last season, Remi Garde was singing the praises of Arsene Wenger. Talking to French daily Le Monde (link in French), Garde told the French press that Wenger bases his managerial philosophy on confidence and a participative spirit.
And that’s what Garde has to do now. Confidence is low, but the best way to give the players confidence is to liberate them from simply being players. There has to be a collaborative spirit. If you’re leaving everything to the manager to sort out, then you’re not going to put in the effort yourself.
That’s what has to happen if Villa are to get out of the mess they’re in.
A team that had six months under Tim Sherwood faced a manager who showed immense self-confidence, and that’s the kind of thing that makes the players leave everything up to the manager. They’ll think ‘we’re not confident, but he is, let’s leave it all to him’.
It’s the ‘we’re all in this together’, blitz spirit that needs to take place if Villa are to stay up.
But this team is relying on players like Jordan Ayew. And if there was ever a walking definition of ‘all fur coat and no knickers’ Jordan Ayew is it. He’s a gifted player. The brother of the much more reliable Andre Ayew and the son of perhaps Ghana’s best ever player Abedi Pele, Jordan Ayew has the pedigree to be wonderful. But, like Pippo Inzaghi he was born offside, and his selfishness on the ball can be infuriating.
In that sense he’s a Tim Sherwood player. It’s individual confidence, not confidence in his team mates that he displays on a weekly basis.
But collective confidence is what Villa need. The kind of confidence in your team mates that allows you to pass to them and be sure that they’re going to do a good job with it. That’s what Villa lack, and that’s exactly what they need.
Garde is the man to being a collective sense of confidence to the team, but in order to do that, his team needs to show him some fight. Losing a player like Amavi knocks the confidence of the team if they feel like Richardson can’t come in and do a good job.
Villa look like they’re fighting a losing battle right now, it’s that blackout, blitz spirit that they need to conjure. And if they can do that, they might find some reinforcements come their way in January. If Garde has learnt anything from Wenger it should be that. Because that’s what Villa need.