Can O’Neill stop the collapse?

Was this weekend the end of Aston Villa’s run at fourth place? As an Arsenal fan, I certainly hope so. But as a long-time admirer of Martin O’Neill, I hope his Aston Villa team doesn’t collapse completely, or if it does, it does so for reasons not entirely his fault, like injuries or something.

Watching both Arsenal’s and Villa’s matches this weekend, it was hard to feel that I was seeing two teams passing in opposite directions. Arsenal, with Arshavin emerging, and Walcott, Fabregas, and even Rosicky on-schedule to return, look ready to solidify fourth and maybe even make a Cinderella-run at European glory.

Villa looked pretty awful Sunday as Spurs… Spurs, ran circles around them at home. O’Neill is now lashing out at supporters, who in O’Neill’s defense have foolishly decided to make Gabby Agbonlahor their Chris Albright.

Is Villa going to collapse? And if so, what does it say about the health of the Premier League that the big four is so impenetrable and that anyone who, like Icarus, ventures close to them finds themselves even worse off than before? As arrogant as Arsenal and Wenger have behaved, what does it say that, in the end, it looks like they’ll end right back up where they always knew they would land – the Champions League?

Even as an Arsenal fan, I know that in this morality play, we’re the bad guys. And, for one of the few times I can remember, I am genuinely unsure what I think of that. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone involved if Villa qualified and Arsenal did not? Arsenal would face a long-due self-examination of its methods and tactics while Villa would earn some reward for truly doing it “the right way,” building a team full of likable young guys from the owner on down.

Even if Arsenal does finish fourth above Villa, I’ll know this for sure. We may have earned that position in the Champions League, but we sure didn’t deserve it the way Villa did.

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