Villa Park, Birmingham
January 13th, 2014; 20:00 BST
Arsenal FC will travel to the Villa Park to face Aston Villa as they look to regain their place at the top of the table. These two sides faced each other in the opening game of the season when the Villans produced a surprise win at the Emirates as Christian Benteke scored a brace. Laurent Koscielny also saw a red card in that game as the Gunners lost 1-3 despite taking an early lead. Arsenal have turned around their season after that loss, which created a huge furore among the supporters, which eventually saw the arrival of Mesut Ozil at the Emirates. The Gunners do have a good record at the Villa Park and the Aston Villa haven’t defeated Arsenal at home in their last 14 attempts. Arsenal’s last visit to this stadium ended in a goalless draw.
Arsenal are currently third in the points table and will return to the top of the table if they manage to win this game. Chelsea’s victory over Hull City and Manchester City away win against Newcastle United have put some pressure on Arsene Wenger’s men to deliver against Villa, as they look to avenge their loss at the start of this Premier League campaign. The London club are currently on a four match winning streak and are coming into this game on the back of a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in their FA Cup third round fixture.
Aston Villa on the other hand are currently 11th in the league table and ended their five match winless streak, a run which saw they lose four of their five league matches, with a crucial away win against Sunderland as Gabriel Agbonlahor scored the winner. But Paul Lambert’s men are coming into this fixture after being knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of Sheffield United as Ryan Flynn scored a late winner for the away side. Villa will look to bounce back from that loss – their fifth in their last seven matches in all competitions.
Team news and tactics
Paul Lambert, like Arsene Wenger, has faced a lot of injury concerns in recent weeks. Charles N’Zogbia, Jores Okore and Libor Kozak are all out of contention for this game with injuries. Kozak has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a broken leg, while Okore is expected to return in April. Ron Vlaar, Joe Bennett and Nathan Baker also face late fitness test ahead of this game. While Bennett is unlikely to feature in this game, Vlaar is likely to start at the center of the defence.
Ciaran Clark, who missed the match against Sunderland due to suspension, is back in contention for this game. The good news for Villa is that Gabriel Agbonlahor, who missed the FA Cup defeat against Sheffield United with an injury, is fit and expected to start once again.
Paul Lambert is expected to make only two changes to the side he fielder against Sunderland in their last Premier League fixture. Even if Nathan Baker passes his fitness test, he is expected to be replaced by the Ciaran Clarke, who will partner Ron Vlaar in the center of the defence. Andreas Wiemann, who has failed to impress consistently this season, is likely to drop down to the bench as Marc Albrighton starts in the attack.
Aston Villa used a 4-4-2 formation against Sunderland with Agbonlahor and Benteke starting upfront, but the home side are expected to shift to a more counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation against Arsenal as Paul Lambert looks to increase the number of bodies in the midfield. Benteke will lead the line and will be Villa’s target man with Agbonlahor and Albrighton feeding off him on the flanks. The attacking trio will look to utilise their pace to exploit the wings.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Guzan (GK); Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Luna; Bacuna, Delph, Westwood; Albrighton, Benteke, Agbonlahor
Arsene Wenger still has to contain with a long injury list ahead of this fixture and is currently missing a lot of his key players. Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs are close to returning to first team action, but this fixture might have come to quickly for them. The left-back will have a later-fitness test tomorrow, but is unlikely to feature in the starting line-up. Thomas Vermaelen and Nicklas Bendtner have also joined the injury list, along with Theo Walcott, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Yaya Sanogo and Abou Diaby remains the other injury concerns at the moment.
The good news for the Gunners though is the availability of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, who will return to the starting line-up in this game after recovering from this fitness concerns. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return will also be a big boost for Arsenal in this crucial stage of the season.
Arsene Wenger is expected to make five changes to the side he fielded against Tottenham in their FA Cup fixture. Giroud will replace the injured Walcott upfront, while Rosicky, who put in a wonderful performance against Spurs, is expected to drop back to the bench as Ozil returns to the side. Gnabry will retain is place after a wonderful performance on the right side of the attack.
Mathieu Flamini will return to the side as well, in place of Jack Wilshere, alongside Mikel Arteta in the pivot ahead of the defence. Per Mertesacker will also return to the defence in place of injured Vermaelen, while Szczesny takes his place in goal replacing Fabianski.
Arsene Wenger will be aware of the counter-attacking capabilities of Aston Villa and the inclusion of Flamini will mostly be to provide a bit of cover to the back-four while facing these attacks. Both Sagna and Monreal will have to be aware of leaving too much space in behind as both Agbonlahor and Albrighton can exploit that with their pace.
Expected started line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Flamini; Gnabry, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud
- Aston Villa haven’t beaten Arsenal at Villa Park in the past 14 attempts.
- Christian Benteke has gone 785 Premier League minutes without scoring.
- Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil has the most assists in the league with eight.
- The Gunners have kept four clean-sheets in their last five matches in all competitions.
- Aston Villa have won only two of their 10 home fixtures so far this season in the league.
Player to watch out for
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
The German international’s last start for Arsenal was in the 1-3 win against West Ham and he made a cameo appearance in the FA Cup win over Tottenham after recovering from his injury. The Gunners will once again be looking up to him to produce the creativity upfront as Arsene Wenger’s men look to maintain their lead at the top. Ozil has already scored four goals and provided seven assists in the league in 15 appearances and in the absence of Theo Walcott, he will need to spark in the attack.
Aston Villa 1-3 Arsenal
It is time for revenge for the Gunners and this time they are well prepared to face the quick and pacy attack of Aston Villa, who caught them flat footed in the first game. Aston Villa will come at them with lot of heart and determination and will look to press hard to deny them any space or time in attack. But the away side’s superior quality will eventually make the difference and expect them to win this by a two goal margin.