Arsenal's great run of 25 points from nine matches came to an end last Sunday when Manchester City beat them 1-0. It was a tight game with both teams playing very well and having a few good chances each, but City had the better of them and managed to take one. The most important thing for Arsenal now is their ability to bounce back from that defeat.
Arsenal started off very poorly away from home this season, but before City beat them they had won three in a row on the road. They scored 11 goals in those games too, and only City have scored more goals on their travels than Arsenal. Their problem away from home has been their inability to stop the opposition scoring, but that is improving too.
Arsenal have four league games in the next 13 days, and the best way they can bounce back from the City defeat is by winning all of those games. It won't be an easy task, but if the team can play like they did against City they have every chance of doing so. Those four games start with a trip to Villa tonight, and it's a must win game in my opinion.
Arsenal are currently fifth in the table, and the two teams directly above them meet each other tomorrow night. If Arsenal can take all three points off Villa they will definitely make up ground on either Chelsea or Spurs, and maybe even both of them. For the moment the most important task for Arsenal is to move into the top four, and then they have to keep that position.
Johan Djourou had to be replaced early in the second half on Sunday after he picked up a knock, and he won't be available for a few weeks. It was hoped that Kieran Gibbs might be on the bench tonight, but he suffered a setback and he will see a specialist very soon. It means Arsenal's defensive options are even more limited, and it's a very worrying situation.
Arsene Wenger admitted that the club are looking at bringing in a full back on loan in January if there is bad news from Gibbs' scan. I think that a full back is an absolute must for Arsenal in January with Santos out for three months, and Gibbs so injury prone. The good news was that Bacary Sagna has started to run again, and hopefully he will be available before the end of January.
It means that Arsenal will have to start with the defence which finished the game against City on Sunday. The full backs will be Laurent Koscielny and Ignasi Miquel with Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker in central defence. I would imagine that Sebastien Squillaci will be on the bench, as he is the only other defender available to the manager.
I think the rest of the team will again be as it was at the start of the game against City, with the exception of the suspended Alex Song. Emmanuel Frimpong has been on the bench for the last two games, and I think he is the most likely player to replace Song. I would prefer to see Francis Coquelin get the nod, but he hasn't been in the squad for the last two games.
I can't imagine that either Andrey Arshavin or Marouane Chamakh will get a chance to start, as they had virtually no influence on the game when they came on against City. If Arsenal are going to use their substitutes I would prefer to see Yossi Benayoun get a chance to show what he can do. I would like to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the squad, but I suspect that Coquelin and Squillaci will take the two places available.
I've seen Villa play at home to both Manchester United and Liverpool recently, and I was completely unimpressed by them. They have sold some of their best players in the last two summers, and failed to replace them with players of anywhere near the same quality. Their only player to have acquitted himself well so far this season has been Gabriel Agbonlahor, but he was suspended against Liverpool last Sunday.
Arsenal may have a few problems from Agbonlahor because of their lack of actual full backs, but they should hopefully be able to deal with him. Darren Bent has enjoyed scoring against Arsenal in the past, but it looks like he will miss tonight's game due to injury.
Villa have become very defensive since Alex McLeish took over as their manager in the summer, and they have become a real bore to watch. They offered virtually nothing in attack against either United or Liverpool, even when they were losing both games. I think McLeish will look to keep things tight tonight, and try to score from set pieces.
Arsenal have improved their defending from set pieces recently, and it's actually Villa who have being conceding from them. Hopefully Arsenal can put Villa's defence under enough pressure from their own set pieces to get a goal or two. I have no doubt that Arsenal will create chances from open play too.
If Arsenal can be clinical enough in front of goal I think Villa are there for the taking, and there's a possibility of them getting well beaten. Their only win in their last five games was away to strugglers Bolton, and their inability to score is a real hindrance for them.
I'm predicting a 3-1 win for Arsenal, and I think Robin van Persie is very likely to score. He had one real good chance to score against City, and he wasn't happy with himself for missing it. I think he will set out to right that wrong, and Villa will pay the price for it.
After today's game the players will play again on Monday at home to Wolves, and I'll probably preview that game on Saturday afternoon for obvious reasons. My usual Premier League predictions will probably be on Friday this week, but nothing is certain because of the time of year.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at what Arshavin used to be able to do.
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