Arsenal Seek Seventh Heaven As Villans Come To Town
After returning from another fruitful trip to Liverpool on Wednesday, the Gunners host Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium today.
The team will try to keep the winning momentum going, with another good performance and three points. Six wins out of the last six puts us at the top of the Premier League form table, and confidence is running high at the moment. A win today would make it seven in a row, the first time since October 2007 when we last experienced such a hot streak.
In the early kickoff, our closest rivals for the Champions League spots go head to head at Stamford Bridge. Points will be dropped by one or both teams. Although a Chelsea win would be desirable too, with the Spuds having a slightly easier run in.
However, Arsene Wenger has warned his players not to be distracted by results elsewhere. He’s urging them to maintain focus, warning them that ‘easing off’ is not an option if they want to finish in third.
As soon as you ease off, things change quickly. We have tricky fixtures and how well we finish depends on our attitude. If we keep our attitude, we have a chance.
In team news, everybody is fit from the mid-week game. Abou Diaby played an hour for the Reserves on Tuesday, scored a goal and predictably, had an injury scare. Luckily, it was just a knock but he is not in contention for a first team place yet. The squad remains exactly the same as the one that travelled to Goodison Park.
It’s a welcome relief, considering the injury crisis we faced around the New Year. Our performances have certainly been lifted since the return of Sagna and Gibbs, and Vermaelen and Koscielny seem to have developed a good understanding once more, having got a run of games together. Kos has been the boss for a while now, but the Verminator looks commanding once more, now that he’s playing in his preferred central role.
The visitors are without Darren Bent, Richard Dunne and Fabian Delph through long term injuries. In addition, Charles N’Zogbia faces a fitness test on his knee today in order to be eligible.
Arsenal play an attacking game at most times, and on current form, we’ll be looking to put the opponents on the back foot right from the start. If the opening 20 minutes at Everton was anything to go by, it should make for an enjoyable game for Gunners fans.
Villa are certainly not in the best of form, winning just one of their last six games. That win came last week at home against Fulham, where Andreas Weimann came on as a substitute to bundle home a winner in the last minute of injury time. Aston Villa fans haven’t quite taken to Alex McLeish, and there’s growing discontent in the stands, although the latest result will have eased some pressure.
On paper, Arsenal should dominate the game and secure the three points. But complacency can set in, especially when you are facing the 15th placed team in the league, at home. This season has proved, more than any other, that there no easy games and no guaranteed victories. The players will need to be fully focused, mentally and physically – especially as the game is being refereed by Phil Dowd!
Bacary Sagna is mindful of this and wants the Gunners to impose themselves on the opposition.
After all, the Villans have provided a stiff test to the Gunners in two meetings this season already. Our 2-1 win in December at Villa Park came in a closely contested game, the winning goal somewhat of an oddity, coming off the head of Yossi Benayoun as it did.
Aston Villa also visited the Emirates in the FA Cup at the end of January, when they took a 2-0 lead at half time through goals by Richard Dunne and Darren Bent. Arsenal came blazing back in the second half, with a scintillating 15 minutes which saw us overturn the deficit. Importantly for Arsenal, both of Villa’s goalscorers are absent this time around. Robbie Keane has also long since returned to LA after his loan spell, and Villa are seriously short of creativity in attack.
Arsene Wenger will surely revert to the more attacking 4-2-1-3 formation at home. The back four should retain their places after the solid performance at Everton, although Wenger may be tempted to rest Gibbs with all the injury troubles he’d had and give a run out to the returning Santos. Unlike previous seasons though, we have reached third place in the table the hard way and I suspect the manager will not want to tinker too much, especially at the back.
However, I do expect Rosicky to drop to the bench and Ramsey to move to the centre. This has nothing to do with the Czech’s form of course, which has been brilliant lately. But Tomas did play 85 minutes at Everton, and the manager may choose to use him judiciously from now until the end of the season. Although he is far from the finished article yet, Ramsey did put in a good performance in mid-week and should be able to pull the strings in midfield.
I expect Gervinho to come into the team ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ivorian hasn’t really got going since returning from the African Cup of Nations, and Wenger will want the tricky forward to discover some form ahead of crucial matches against City and Chelsea in April. The Ox will be itching to play as well though, and Arsene may prefer to unleash his energy on our opponents right from the start.
Probable starting XI:
Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Gibbs
Song – Arteta
Walcott – RvP – Gervinho
In terms of tactics, Arsenal will endeavor to move the ball quickly, as they did at the start against Everton. The midfield will once again try to dominate possession and dictate play. Walcott’s pace and Gervinho’s direct approach should cause problems for the Villa full backs and the Gunners will try to pin them back in their own halves for most of the game. Chances will surely be created, but we must make the possession stats count by putting the ball in the net.
Villa will look to be organised in defense and try to catch Arsenal on the counter with pace on the wings. Petrov, Ireland and Herd will harry the midfield, with Albrighton and N’Zogbia dropping deeper to help out as well. Agbonlahor should start as the sole striker and will be expected to hold the ball up and get the team up the pitch. As long as it’s goalless though, I cannot see Alex McLeish’s side being too positive, they will not fancy their chances in an open game against us on current form.
Overall, as the manager would say, if we show our quality, mental strength, resilience and ‘relentless dynamism’, we should put Villa to the sword.
My prediction is 3-0 to the Arsenal. Enjoy the game. And mind the gap!