After three draws in the league and a defeat in Champions’ League opener Arsenal are about to pay a visit to Aston Villa. The Villains have played above expectations so far – they’ve already won two difficult away games (Stoke and Liverpool respectively) and with ten points lie on the second place and will stay above us even we win the game at Villa Park.
Injuries, numerous questions about the summer transfer window and poor form of some of our best players have added pressure on both Arsene Wenger’s and players’ back. In a way, Aston Villa couldn’t wish for a better time to host us and try to break a win-less streak against Arsenal at Villa Park – they have been in a really good shape so far and we have shown defensive flaws in every game this season.
Even if it’s the first match between Arsenal and Villa this season, it’s worth noting that Arsene Wenger hasn’t done a double over Paul Lambert. In 2011-12, Lambert was in charge at Norwich – Arsenal won at Carrow Road 2:1 but were held at 3:3 draw at home. In 2012-13, Aston Villa held Arsenal to a goal-less draw at Villa Park and in the reverse fixture it was Santi Cazorla’s late winner that gave us 2:1 victory. Last season, Aston Villa won the season opener at the Emirates thanks to Anthony Taylor, a referee who gave one of the most disgusting performances I’ve ever seen. In the reverse fixture, Jack Wilshere-inspired Arsenal scored two goals in 59 seconds and were cruising to an easy victory before Santi Cazorla’s poor pass opened the chance for the counter-attack that ended with Benteke heading the ball home. We eventually kept our lead but it was a nervy finish.
The good news – Christian Benteke is out for today’s game and he scored three goals against us last season. Also, the most important Villa player Ron Vlaar is a doubt for today’s clash and that should enable our strikers – especially Danny Welbeck – to deal with Villa defence much easier.
The bad news – our defence is stretched to the maximum and none of our healthy defenders has been in a glorious form. Gabriel Agbonlahor is a serious threat as well as Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph. Things get more complicated when you take into account that Aston Villa seem to play much better against big teams – last season they had beaten Manchester City and Chelsea at home, Arsenal on the road and held Liverpool to 2:2 draw.
Arsene Wenger knows that spilling points at Villa Park would be a huge set-back for our title-challenge and would add more pressure ahead of matches against Spuds and Chavs respectively.
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Szczesny is likely to start again between the sticks despite failing to keep a clean sheet in the league this season. Calum Chambers should start on the right side of the defence while Kieran Gibbs should start on the left again. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny should improve their game today and protect our goal better. Mikel Arteta should do same (provided that he starts). Alexis Sánchez is our best player at the moment, alongside Jack Wilshere who might be on the bench after picking a knock against Borussia. Wilshere has scored in two occasions at Villa Park and gave a wonderful performance last season so Wenger might decide to start him ahead of Ramsey. Rosicky might get a first start this season in the middle of the park while Özil’s poor form down the left flank might force Wenger to start with Cazorla over there. Finally, Danny Welbeck might get his first goal – after two good performances against City and Dortmund respectively in which he missed more than a few chances to score, he should add the final touch to his game and score at least once today.
I’d go with a victory for Gunners and it would be great if it happens without a conceded goal. It will be a difficult match but we should beat the hosts 2:0 with goals from Welbeck and Alexis.
Head to head
(EPL) 13th Jan Aston Villa 1 – Arsenal FC 2
(EPL) 17th Aug Arsenal 1 – Aston Villa 3
(EPL) 23rd Feb Arsenal 2 – Aston Villa 1
(EPL) 24th Nov Aston Villa 0 – Arsenal 0
(EPL) 24th Mar Arsenal 3 – Aston Villa 0
Chambers Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Alexis Ramsey Rosicky Cazorla
Aston Villa 0 v 2 Arsenal