Villa Park, Birmingham
Saturday, 24th November, 17:30 GMT
Sitting in the 18th place in the league, with just 9 points from 12 games, Aston Villa, even at their own Villa Park, don’t look to challenge for any honors this season. There have been significant changes in the team in the last few years with top players like Ashley Young and James Milner leaving the club for greener pastures. Paul Lambert, the boss at the Park, is having a difficult time with the cash and talent at offer. After managing lower division clubs, this has been a totally different experience for Lambert. A thrashing at the hands of the champions in their last game made things even worse. In fact, it doesn’t stop there, he faces a touchline ban from the FA for speaking against officials after the game at the City of Manchester.
After two significant victories, one, against perennial rivals Spurs, and another in the Champions League to guarantee a spot in the next round, Arsenal have just started the ascendancy. They have been consistently inconsistent this season, with beating defending champions Manchester City and losing to Norwich City, both attached to the same resume. Arsene Wenger is aware of the fans’ expectations this season, anything below a silverware won’t be considered success of any sort. However, the board believes a fourth place finish will be good enough to keep the club at a financially sound condition. With two consecutive trips in the league, Villa Park followed by Goodison Park, in a matter of four days, there is no scope for the team to bask in their latest achievements. Arsenal need to stand up and compete with the best in the league.
Team News And Tactical Brief
The midlands outfit sits among the bottom three in the league after that thrashing at the hands of Manchester City last weekend. Without their Scottish manager, Villa will start the game this Saturday against an Arsenal team just on the brink of hitting top form.
Meanwhile, Ashley Westwood has requested the fans to make the atmosphere as electric as possible at Villa Park. The stadium sprung to life in the game against Manchester United, and the dynamic midfielder wants a repeat of the same against the Gunners. The young midfielder has settled down well at the club and has been helped by the manager’s belief in his abilities. Former Manchester City anchor-man Stephen Ireland will give him company in midfield. Ireland is a key player for Villa, as his creativity and determination can be very helpful against top oppositions. Another player who will start in midfield is Barry Bannan who started his career with Aston Villa but had to go for various loan spells to establish himself. He is back this season and has started a handful of games.
The young striker from Congo, Benteke might be given a start by the manager against Agbonlahor. He is still settling in the league and his experienced striker partner can make life easier for him at Villa. Agbonlahor, who might not be as lethal as he was with the services of Ashley Young, is still a force to reckon with, and can be quite dangerous for slow defenders like Mertesacker to handle.
The manager who has been fined £8,000 by FA, is likely to start Stevens, Vlaar, Clark and Lowton ahead of his American keeper, Brad Guzan. The 28 year-old shot stopper has now spent 4 years at the club, but his chances were very minimal in the presence of Friedel all these years.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-2-1): Guzan; Stevens, Vlaar, Clark, Lowton; Bannan, Westwood, Agbonlahor; Ireland, Weimann; Benteke
With a side that hasn’t seen much rotation, Arsene is under the risk of overplaying his top players like Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski, not to mention the ever-running machine, Mikel Arteta, who has made more passes this season than any player (except Xavi) in Europe. The absence of a top-notch standby striker means there is too much dependency on Giroud to deliver. The out of favor Moroccan, Marouane Chamakh has hardly made to the bench recently, even though he scored a brace in the League Cup.
Theo Walcott’s latest injury means he will be taking a break, maybe even sitting with his agent to discuss his future at the club. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who showed some moments of brilliance in the last few games, will start in place of Theo, and will look to make life difficult for Theo when he returns. Podolski, after a stunner of a strike against Montpellier, will be high on confidence; he starts alongside striker-partner Giroud. The two strikers have now scored 13 goals between them this season, picking up a total of 8 assists – a figure comparable of what van Persie alone did last season in the same number of games.
Cazorla, Arteta and Wilshere are a dream-force at the middle of the park, but there is an issue of lack of physicality in this trio, which they quite invariably make up for with technicality and brilliance. Jack Wilshere, who scored his first goal in over a year, is slowly finding his ground. His form can be the single most important factor for this Arsenal team if they want to win something of significance this season. The two Spaniards who can exchange passes even with eyes-closed, are the fulcrum on which the team rotates the ball all over the park. Cazorla has been a massive acquisition for Arsene; he has, so far, stood upto the huge expectations.
In the absence of injured Santos, and with the return of Gibbs, the manager will have to make the single biggest decision of the game, whom to drop among Koscielny and Vermaelen, to play alongside the big German, who opened his scoring book very recently. With the arm-band advantage in the Belgian’s favor, he is expected to start next to the returning Englishman. Szczesny keeps his place in front of goal, but he needs to be on top all the time, knowing very well that a slip-up means Vito Mannone can grab his place back.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Wilshere, Arteta; Podolski, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud
- Villa created history by scoring a club-record 128 goals in 1930-31 season, yet finished second to Arsenal.
- Aston Villa have won none of their last 13 Premier League home games against Arsenal.
- Arsenal’s last two Premier League games have produced a total of 13 goals.
Player(s) To Watch Out For
Stephen Ireland (Aston Villa)
The bald midfield man, who will be operating in the hole behind the strikers, may not be as lethal as he used to be during his Manchester City days, but is still the danger-man for the Gunners to closely watch. He is quite capable of game changing moments with both scoring and assisting capabilities.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
The Spanish wizard has been phenomenal for Arsenal this season. He has been behind almost every good move by Arsenal this season. His close to body dribbling, perfect first touch and ambidextrous capability of using both legs make him the most dangerous man to take on the Villains at their den.
Aston Villa 0 – 2 Arsenal
Arsenal, in peak goal-scoring form, is expected to slot a few more before they make another difficult trip to Everton in midweek. The defense with the latest clean sheet, will be tested by the Villa strikers, but is expected to give very less headache to the Pole.
Blast from the Past
Arsenal 3 – 2 Aston Villa (2001, Classic Clashes)