ARSENAL

V

ASTON VILLA

The Emirates Stadium, North London

August 17, 2013, 15:00 B.S.T

********

Arsenal Football Club open their campaign at home against Aston Villa on Saturday evening looking to put the doom and gloom of the transfer market behind them and concentrate on their football. With a 3 o’ clock kickoff at the Grove, Arsene Wenger would be hoping the Gunners can continue their brilliant pre-season form as the curtains raise and another football season gets under way.

Arsenal enjoyed a very positive pre-season in Asia, scoring the highest number of goals by any of the Premier League sides and looking fluid in attack and solid at the back. Aston Villa on the other hand have had a hot and cold pre-season, drawing, losing and winning in equal proportions. The transfer window has been entirely different for both clubs, however, with the Midlands club completing most of their transfers early on, while Arsenal have mostly shipped out their deadwood with no notable signings other than 20 year old Yaya Sanogo to show in return.

During the same time frame, Paul Lambert has not only kept hold of prized asset Christian Benteke but also gone on to secure  the signings of Jores Okore, Antonio Luna, Alexander Tonev, Leandro Bacuna and Nicklas Helenius. While in North London the frustrating summer for Arsenal fans continues with no potential signing around the horizon. The squad is paper thin at the moment and Arsene Wenger would need to weave his magic in the market. Having not lost any of his first team players except a bit-part player in Gervinho, Wenger’s men are firm favourites for the clash.

Aston Villa are a youthful side, with Lambert hoping to continue the good work from last season and will be hoping to get the Villains a top half finish this term. He will take his side to the Emirates stadium with nothing held back looking to stun the crowd with a positive result. The Midlands club have had quite a decent record at the Emirates Stadium having won twice and drawn once, since the Gunners moved from Highbury and Lambert would be confident in his troops. Arsenal meanwhile have papered their transfer failings with good on-pitch performances, beating Manchester City in Helsinki.

However, their performance in front of their home fans was far from pleasing in the annual Emirates Cup tournament and Arsene Wenger would be hoping a better showing from the men in red and white on Saturday. A good start is key for the Gunners as they also have to negotiate Fenerbahce in the Champions League qualifiers in midweek and a good performance here will boost their confidence. Paul Lambert would be excited about facing this Arsenal side, who seem to be sucked into another injury crisis right at the start of the season.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Arsenal

The injury crisis grows deeper with Arteta out for 6 weeks

The Gunners can’t catch a break at the moment. Transfers hitting dead ends, an already short in number squad getting shorter, injuries to key players, angered and frustrated fans and so much more. After every international gameweek, Arsenal fans peep from behind the couch in fear of the worst possible news. As suspected, Theo Walcott has a knock on his knee, Aaron Ramsey has a niggle, Bacary Sagna isn’t a 100% and Santi Cazorla suffers having travelled to Ecuador in the midweek. But none of these news measure anywhere close to the fact that Mikel Arteta is out for roughly 6 weeks. In those 6 weeks the Gunners indulge themselves in a Champions League 2-legged qualifier and a North London derby. With an already thread bare squad, the midfield options seem far and few to choose from.

Wenger is likely to start with Wilshere and Ramsey(if fit) in midfield with Rosicky pulling the strings behind Giroud. Walcott despite limping off against Scotland should be fit to start on the right, while one of Podolski-Cazorla would occupy the left. The midfield trio of Jack-Ramsey-Rosicky could work as a dynamic and fluid setup with all three players capable of finding a pass to open up the defence, the problem however lies in their defensive protection.

Rosicky isn’t very keen to track back, Jack and Ramsey on the other hand are similar to each other and always look to be involved in the  action directly or otherwise. Thus it’s important that Wenger strictly instructs them to play in tandem and not leave the defence exposed against some tidy customers in Westwood and Agbonlahor. If Jenkinson starts he will need to be on his toes against Villa’s electric left side of Agbonlahor-Clark. Arsenal would play their usual game passing and manouvering moves into the Villa box making openings, while remaining a threat on the counter at the same time.

Probable Starting XI(4-2-3-1)Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud

Aston Villa

Still the main man

The football season couldn’t have come sooner for Paul Lambert as he readies his forces for a run of games that sees his side face Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool within 8 days. Aston Villa have almost a full strength squad for their trip to North London with only Sylla and Herd being doubts for the clash along with long term absentee Charles N’zogbia. With 5 new signings and 1 departure in the form of Darren Bent, Villa would look to improve upon their 15th place finish.

Lambert would be using his new signings judiciously to start with. The signature of Jores Okore will help the defence significantly and would be a definite upgrade on Bennett. Vlaar will partner him in central defence, with Lowtown and Clark playing fullbacks. Fabian Delph has become a key member for the the Aston Villa midfield and would be operating with Westwood, Bannan and Agbonlahor to feed the attacking duo of Weimann and Benteke.

Agbonlahor’s pace will be a problem for the Arsenal defence and should help Villa stretch the home side on counters. However the fluid midfield of the Arsenal team could rip Aston Villa apart and thus it’s necessary that Lambert issues individual instructions for Delph and Westwood on how to deal with Rosicky and Wilshere. The addition of Tonev will help undoubtedly. With not much direct penetration, Villa would hope Benteke can open up spaces in the Arsenal defence. Set pieces and counters however remain their best bets to get a goal.

Probable Starting XI(4-3-3): Guzan; Baker, Vlaar, Lowtown, Okore; Tonev, Westwood, Delph, Agbonlahor; Weimann; Benteke

Key Facts

  1. Arsenal have not lost any of their last 12 opening Premier League games (W8 D4), though they have drawn their last three.
  2. The Emirates Stadium saw more goals than any other stadium in the Premier League last season (70).
  3. Arsenal have lost only one of their last nine Barclays Premier League meetings with Aston Villa (W5, D3).
  4. Aston Villa have won only twice in their last 19 trips to Arsenal but both the wins have come at the Emirates Stadium.

Player To Watch Out For

Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)

Laurent Koscielny

Kos the Boss

The Frenchman has shown glimpses of his class and ability last season and has a fair shout at being one of the best defenders in the league. Being a key figure in the Arsenal defence last season, Koscielny has formed a formidable partnership with Mertesacker and the duo have shored up the leaky Arsenal defence. Against the mobile front line of Helenius and Benteke, Koscielny will need to be on his toes in order to keep Villa at bay.

His pre-season form has been nothing short of excellent and he capped it off with a man of the match performance midweek against Belgium. A good game from the French man will not only guarantee a clean sheet but could also lead to a few goals at the other end from set pieces.

Prediction

Arsenal 3-1 Aston Villa

The Gunners will look to start their campaign on a winning note playing in front of the home fans and after a week that has seen matters get from bad to worse with injuries, Arsene Wenger would be hoping his players can lift themselves for the occasion and get the 3 points in the bag. Aston Villa don’t have much to lose and will play with freedom but that may not be enough for an Arsenal side who look to prove their critics wrong, right from day one.