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Four-goal Faris dreams of AFC Cup final


Vote David O'Leary?

Arsenal 5 - 0 Aston Villa

If this football lark eventually goes belly up for David O'Leary, maybe he could consider entering the world of politics.

Looking very dashing in an expensive suit and boasting a charming smile, his gentle and genial temperament would be welcomed by any political spin doctor, while his ability to give incredibly bland answers to any question from the media singles out the Aston Villa manager as having all the credentials to make it as an MP in Britain or the equivalent TD in his native Ireland.

As you don't need to be good at your job to succeed in politics, O'Leary appears to have all the qualities required to enter the murky world of parliament. That is even before we get into those off-field allegations of his text message relations with a bar maid that would also fit in well with those at Westminster or in Dublin's Dail.

In fact, old smoothy Dave could easily have become the new Bill Clinton by now had his life had taken another path, but as far as Aston Villa fans are concerned, he is little more than the current failed mouthpiece of chairman Doug Ellis, the latest manager who has failed to revive a club that never grows tired of reminding the world that it won the European Cup once.

Attempting to defend O'Leary's woeful record in his three years at Villa Park is not easy, yet we should start by offering the now standard Doug Ellis excuse. Graham Taylor and John Gregory are among those who have tried and failed to turn Villa into winners in recent times and many believe nothing will change for the giants of Midlands football until their frail old talisman of underachivement exits centre stage.

However, O'Leary wouldn't want us to use Ellis' presence as an excuse for his side's failings so once he had finished kissing babies on the side of a Highbury pitch he graced as a player for the best part of 20 years, we could get on with assessing the side that very much has his stamp on it.

As he has signed most of the players who sported the yellow Villa shirts for this game, it's not unfair to suggest he can take much of the blame for their ineptitude and it didn't take long for Arsenal to expose all the flaws that have become familiar for the muted band of travelling Villa fans who had made this trip down to London.

Had Kevin Phillips made the most of a chance as he found himself one on one with Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann in the 14th minute, this sporting obituary may have been given a slightly different gloss, but as that opening was wasted, Villa's hopes of causing a Highbury shock evaporated.

Just a few minutes later, Arsenal took a lead all too easily. Thierry Henry was allowed to get in behind a Villa backline playing way too high up the pitch and Emmanuel Adebayor got on the end of the move to open the scoring. Five minutes later, another long ball exposed that high backline again and Henry did what Phillips couldn't as he lifted the ball over the onrushing keeper to end the game as a contest.

Our old friend Dave must have quickly switched his thoughts to damage limitation, yet Villa supporters cannot accept such mediocrity. Weighed down by their glorious history, they are in danger of going the way of Nottingham Forest unless they halt their slide. Looking at this rabble who wore the famous shirt at Highbury, you fear for the future.

Energetic and enthusiastic they may have been, but the reality was they were blatantly not good enough to cope with an Arsenal side who are buzzing just now. It was left to assistant boss Roy Aitken to vent some anger on the touchline and that is generally the way when O'Leary is in charge. After all, he is far too polite and dignified to raise his voice, which may be one of his biggest flaws.

It could be argued that he could do little to halt the Arsenal onslaught as his bench featured Juan Pablo Angel and a host of youthful kids, but the fact that Arsenal were not even required to click into second gear to collect three points wasn't good enough for the travelling hoardes.

Arsenal's third goal, seconds after the interval, was truly a work of art as a long ball from Emmanuel Eboue was greeted with a cheeky flick from Adebayor on the edge of the box and a stunning finish from Henry. It was Wenger's men at their very best and with that the party tricks started to appear. Toying with Villa, this match had the potential to get very embarrassing for O'Leary.

That goal effectively killed off any plans O'Leary hatched at half-time, when he threw Angel into the mix and as the Arsenal fans screamed out their admiration for Arsene Wenger, the Villa manager could only look on.

When he went into management at Leeds, his long-term dream must have been to return to Highbury as Arsenal manager, yet he has been found out at Villa and may struggle to find a new employer when Doug Ellis wields his overused axe, as he will surely do.

The sight of Thierry Henry being hauled off by Wenger with a full 25 minutes still to run could have been construed as a insult to Villa, but why bother humouring an opponent that isn't worthy of gracing your beautifully manicured pitch? Arsenal have much bigger fish to fry than O'Leary.

Henry's replacement, Robin van Persie, proceeded to confirm the gulf in class between the two sides as he teased and taunted Villa keeper Sorensen before crashing home Arsenal's fourth goal from the angle. It was a sad confirmation that Arsenal's reserves are light years ahead of Villa's first-choice stars, as if we needed any further evidence.

I have a lot of young lads in this team.
The O'Leary mantra
So, over to you, Dave; we hereby give him a platform to rebuff all of the above. Though you couldn't have given us better quotes if we made them up. 'I have a lot of young lads in this team,' he began, never wishing to divert from his familiar script. 'If you give players of the Arsenal's calibre the chance, they will kill you and that's what happened today.

'There are certain sides in this league who are capable of tearing you apart on their day and Arsenal are certainly one of those. The last few years I have come to Highbury, they have produced some wonderful, wonderful football. With power and pace in abundance, they play football the way it should be played.'

Like any great orator, he was coming close to convincing the room that a 5-0 defeat was, in fact, a decent result, but then reality struck as O'Leary began to talk about next season, with many believing that particular challenge may not be his concern.

'The Villa fans are frustrated and so am I,' he continued. 'They are not happy to be in this position at the wrong end of the table and neither am I. The first thing we have to try and do is win our next two home games and there is a possibility we will have Mellberg, Baros and Milner back which will help us in that pursuit.

'Then we can look to next season. I know what I want to do this summer and I just hope I'm able to do it. The kids we have in the team now are not letting us down, but we need a bit more.'

He went on to voice his hopes that Arsenal would meet Barcelona in the Champions League Final, smooching his way into the affections of the ever fickle hacks, who will always be nice to anyone who is nice to them. Harry Redknapp has proved as much over the years.

The last sighting I had of our Dave was truly remarkable. Taking a photograph of Thierry Henry, two blondes and DJ Chris Moyles on the side of the Highbury pitch, he finally seemed to have flipped.

That alone was a sackable offence and as the aforementioned Doug Ellis has never been shy when it comes to firing managers, Dave may soon be seeking alternative employment. I wonder if he has ever considered politics?

MAN OF THE MATCH: Thierry Henry

There are players whose genuine ability is overshadowed by the hype, but this guy is a class apart. His two goals in this game were taken with a typical gloss of brilliance.

FOOD WATCH: A pre-match muffin and a nice hot chicken and mushroom pie at half-time has become a Highbury tradition for us press box regulars and we can only hope they provide more of the same at their new stadium next season.

HOW MUCH? Arsenal's ability to milk the last drop out of their final season at Highbury know no bounds and their latest scam is selling pieces of the Highbury pitch for £25 a go. Such profiteering would doubtless help to pay for Thierry Henry's new contract, but he seems unhappy to sign it.

HENRY UPDATE: Arsene Wenger: 'Thierry is the best and I don't want to imagine the moment when I have to replace him and until that day arrives, I won't bring myself to consider it.' Ominous words for all Arsenal fans as their manager appears to be preparing himself for the departure of a living legend.

INJURY WATCH: Cesc Fabregas limped off after just 15 minutes and has a swollen foot. Wenger rates him as 60-40 against playing against Juve on Wednesday night.

O'LEARY VERDICT: He was fortunate to inherit a bunch of fantastic kids and a vast cheque book during his time as Leeds manager, but without that to fall back on, he has failed to prove himself as a manager of any ability at Villa. His final few games as the club's latest failed manager are unlikely to be very pretty. Don't worry Villa fans, things might better when O'Leary has gone.

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