The Emirates Stadium, North London
15:00 Hrs GMT, 2nd Feb 2013
Arsenal’s season is on the verge of collapsing. With the scars, from the recently concluded match against Bayern, still fresh in their minds, the Gunners will host lowly Aston Villa this Saturday at the Emirates.
Arsenal are coming into this match on the back of two consecutive defeats at home, a feat (if you can call it so) that was last achieved back in 2010. They lost to Blackburn Rovers at home and were knocked out of the FA cup – a tournament which represented their best hope of getting a trophy this season.
Their last defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich has also put them on the verge of elimination from the Champions League in the round of 16. The Gunners now desperately need to get back in the race for the fourth spot in the league to salvage their season – something which will be easier said than done considering Tottenham’s current form.
But in the league Arsenal have been in relatively good form of late. The London side has lost only two of their last eleven matches – at home against Manchester City and against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Arsene Wenger’s men are currently four points behind Tottenham and with Spurs playing their next match on Monday, Arsenal can cut the gap to just one point with a good performance against Aston Villa.
Aston Villa suffered similar fate like Arsenal in the FA Cup as they were knocked out by Championship side Millwall. But FA Cup is hardly the priority for Paul Lambert currently. The Villans are struggling to pull away from the relegation dog fight.
Despite a 2-1 victory over West Ham at home in their last match, Aston Villa have been on a poor run of form. In fact that victory against the Hammers was their first in their last nine Premier League matches. Their current predicament is mostly down to their poor home form this season. Aston Villa have won only three of the 13 home matches so far; interestingly they have provided better performances away from home.
Aston Villa are currently just one point above the relegation zone and would want to take advantage of Arsenal’s poor recent form – something they achieved last season when Bent scored a brace at the Emirates.
Surprisingly, Arsenal have only two injury concerns presently. Bacary Sagna will be out with a knee injury, and Carl Jenkinson, who has returned from his suspension, will start in his place. In fact when one takes into consideration Sagna’s recent performances, Jenkinson deserved to start in his place. Kieran Gibbs remains the only other player on side-lines at the moment. Nacho Monreal, who was ineligible to face Bayern in the Champions League, will start once again in the left back spot.
Other than the above two forced changes, Giroud is expected to start once again. The Frenchman will replace Ramsey in the starting line-up with Walcott moving back to his wide right position. Walcott, who started as a striker against Bayern, does have the pace to worry defenders, but his hold-up play isn’t up to the mark yet – Giroud provides a better option into the box.
But Walcott won’t be static on the right; he will drift to more central positions during the match. What Arsenal need is Podolski to get in the box with much more regularity. Arsenal at times have lacked bodies in the box this season – that makes it easy for the opponents to deal with crosses and cutbacks.
The fullbacks become very important for Arsenal with their wide players drifting inside. Jenkinson and Monreal will have to provide the width. This will also help them push back Lowton and Baker, who are good going forward.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Arteta, Wilshere; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
Paul Lambert does have a big injury list to deal with at the moment. N’Zogbia is doubtful for this match, while Herd, Albrighton, Gardner, Dunne and Petrov are all long-term injury concerns. But the good news is that Gabby Agbonlahor and Karim El Ahmadi will be available once again; the duo missed out Villa’s last match against West Ham due to illness. Agbonlahor will replace Bowery in the starting line-up.
Villa’s prime concern has been their defence this season. They have conceded 50 goals in 26 games (2nd highest). The problem lies in the fact that Villa are a very young side and lack experience. The average age of the Villa defence that lined up against West Ham in their last match was around 23.
Aston Villa have been too dependent on Benteke to score the goals but thankfully for them, the Belgium international has delivered more often than not. They are a good passing side but get bullied in the midfield far too often.
But against Arsenal, Villa will be up against a team which lacks confidence at the moment. The Gunners’ defence is shaky and if they can get the ball up to Benteke and N’Zogbia, the duo is capable to causing a lot of trouble for the Arsenal center back pairing. They would need a quick transition of play from back to the front and if required they should bypass the Arsenal midfield with long balls for Benteke to run onto.
Arsenal will dominate possession, but Villa will be looking to use pace of Agbonlahor, Weimann and N’Zogbia to exploit the gaps at the back on counter attacks.
Possible Starting Line-Up (4-5-1): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker; Westwood, Delph; Agbonlahor, N’Zogbia, Weimann; Benteke
- Arsenal have won only two of their last six home games against Aston Villa in the Barclays Premier League, after winning each of the previous eight.
- Villa have only scored 16 goals in 20 away trips to Arsenal in the Premier League.
- Arsenal have caught more players offside than any other top-flight team this season (91).
- Arsenal have created fewer goal scoring chances from corners than any other side this season (24).
- Villa have been shown more yellow cards than any other Premier League team this season (54).
Player To Watch Out For
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
The Belgium international has been in fine form since joining Villa at the start of this season. He has already racked up 11 goals in the league this season. He has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances (in all competitions). The former Genk forward is strongly built and can bully defenders off the ball. He is extremely good in the air and has shown clinical finishing ability of late.
Arsenal’s defenders, who have conceded three goals in their last match against Bayern, will have a tough time containing Benteke. The amount of service that ASton Villa midfield can provide Benteke in this match might well decide whether the Villans will be able to cause an upset at the Emirates.
Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa
Arsenal will be under tremendous pressure to perform in this match as another defeat/draw could see them effectively fall out of the race for the fourth spot in the league. This is the time for the Gunners to salvage the season for their manager, or what’s left of it. Aston Villa are desperate for points as well, but will find it hard to get on the ball and provide Benteke with enough service upfront.
Arsenal will start this match very aggressively as the players will have a point to make. Although one wouldn’t put it past Villa to score a goal in this match, in the end Arsenal’s superior quality should come through.