An injury in training is set to keep Emile Heskey out of Aston Villa's lineup for up to four weeks, the club announced today. Gerard Houllier's first choice striker will require surgery for a medial meniscus injury incurred Wednesday. Heskey's absence leaves Houllier with only John Carew and Nathan Delfouneso for Saturday's trip to Fulham.
Heskey had experienced a minor resurgence under Houllier, who was appointed Villa manager in early September. Recently, Heskey has been the preferred choice at striker, usurping Carew, who had been former manager Martin O'Neill's choice number nine. Heskey has started each league match since Houllier took over. Under O'Neill, Heskey started only 54 percent of Villa's league matches since moving from Wigan in the winter of `08.
The former England international's string of starts began with a game winning goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers. In Villa's next match, a strong effort from Heskey set-up an opening, Mark Albrighton goal at White Hart Lane. That goal was the last Villa has scored in league, amassing a 254 minute goalless streak ahead of Saturday's trip to Craven Cottage.
Despite Heskey's strong individual play, Villa's goal rate in matches he's started (0.75) is down slightly from their preceding six matches (1.00) as well as their 2008-09 rate (1.37). While samples of four and six matches are hardly meaningful bases for conclusion, Villa's scoring drought sparks what seems the perpetual debate surrounding Heskey. His work rate is appealing, and his ability to win balls and bring teammates into play is attractive to a coach that has an Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor or (for England) Wayne Rooney. Whether those skills make up for Heskey's lack of goal scoring (six goals in 61 appearances for Villa) at the most important goal scoring position brings his the relative value of his contributions into doubt.
For the next four weeks, Gerard Houllier will get a different context to assess Heskey's contributions. The striker is set to miss matches against Fulham (Saturday), Blackpool (November 10), Manchester United (November 13), and possibly Blackburn (November 21).