Monday, 13 January 2014

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Aston Villa Previewed

Arsenal went into the weekend on top of the Premier League but the teams below them all got to play before they did. Chelsea won at Hull on Saturday and City beat Hull on Sunday for both of them to move ahead of Arsenal for the moment at least. Arsenal travel to Villa knowing they need to win to retake top spot and it's a task they're more than capable of completing.

Until Liverpool put five goals past Stoke on Sunday Arsenal were the top scorers away from home and they have won seven of their 10 away games. Their away form has been very impressive so far, but they have some tough away games to come between now and the end of the season. Of the away games they have left Villa is definitely one of the easier ones and it's one Arsenal should be winning.

Villa have only won two of their 10 home games and they have only scored seven goals in those games. They are the lowest scorers at home in the league and have only taken eight points at home compared to 15 away from home. Their style of football is suited to playing on the break away from home and that should hopefully work to Arsenal's advantage. On the other hand Villa might just be able to sit back and defend against Arsenal and try to hit them on the break as Arsenal's way is to attack themselves. 

In team news Arsenal will of course be without Theo Walcott as the injury he picked up against Spurs last week has ended his season. Kieran Gibbs probably won't be available either and Nicklas Bendtner is still a few weeks away from returning to the squad. Thomas Vermaelen's knee injury will keep him out of the game and Aaron Ramsey probably won't return until next week's game at home to Fulham.

It's not all bad news though as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should rejoin the squad for the first time since the opening day off the season. He was taken off injured in that 3-1 defeat at home to a Villa and it's been almost five months since he last played for the first team. He played 45 minutes for the under 21 team against Fulham on Thursday night and Arsene Wenger says he should be fit to take his place in the squad.

With Walcott out for the rest of the season Chamberlain can expect to get a lot of game time and he will hope to make an impression on the England manager Roy Hodgson with the World Cup coming up. I have to confess I'm a little worried Chamberlain is being rushed back and he will hopefully only be used sparingly over the next couple of weeks. The team's need is great at the moment, but there is always the option of the impressive Serge Gnabry to replace Walcott.

On the other hand Lukas Podolski has been eased back into the team so gradually that there is an impression in some quarters that the manager doesn't trust him. He returned to full training a month ago and has only started one game since then and he came on as a sub in one other game. His goal scoring ability could be a real asset to the team for the rest of the season and he has to be given a fair crack of the whip in my opinion.

With no midweek games for the next two weeks Arsenal can play their strongest team in the next two games without the need to rest any players. The boss can rotate a little if he feels the need but the vitally important players such as Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud should be able to play each of the games. Giroud has become a very important player to the way Arsenal play and hopefully he can get himself on the score sheet against Villa and Fulham.

The defence should be the same as last week's win against Spurs but I think Ozil will come back into the midfield as long as he gets the all clear from his injury. With Giroud returning in attack to replace Walcott I would expect Gnabry to probably keep his place on the right and Santi Cazorla to probably play on the left again too. The big choice will be who will play in midfield along with Ozil assuming that he returns to the team.

Assuming Mikael Arteta retains his holding role that only leaves one place in the team between Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, but both of them deserve to keep their places. These are the tough decisions the boss has to make and he has to make the ones which are best for the team. Besides all of those players there wouldn't be a place in the team for Mathieu Flamini, Podolski or Chamberlain which should make the bench look pretty strong. 

Arsenal may have lost at home to Villa on the opening day of the season but you have to go back to last century to find the last time they lost away to Villa in the league. In their last 14 trips to Villa they have won seven and drawn seven and it's a record Arsenal should be very proud of. 

Their need for a win to take them back to the top of the table is great, but Villa also need points to move clear of the relegation zone. The weekend results have seen things tighten up an awful lot at the wrong end of the table and Villa are now only six points off the bottom of the table. They won away to Sunderland last week and it was their first win in six games with only three goals scored in those games.

Villa may be the home team but they will hope to defend and hit Arsenal on the break and that tactic worked very well in their opening day win away to Arsenal. The Arsenal team have improved an awful lot since then and deserve their place at the top of the table. They're playing some very good football and would be in an even better position if they could be a little more clinical in front of goal.

They owe Villa a beating after that opening day defeat and hopefully they will have a better referee this time out. Laurent Koscielny was given his marching orders in that game for two yellow cards but the first one was for a penalty which never should have been given. I've said a few times recently that Arsenal are due a few decisions in their favour after missing out on quite a few penalties and red cards for opponents in the last few weeks. 

They haven't let those bad decisions affect them though and have recovered well from their slight blip before Christmas by winning their last four games and only conceding one goal in those games. That goal was awAy to West Ham and it put them 1-0 down in the game, but they came roaring to win 3-1. Even if they go behind against Villa they have the ability and the bottle to get themselves back into the game and win it. 

Villa are definitely a threat on the break, but Arsenal have an awful lot more threats in their team. Villa will be far more worried about the threat Arsenal pose than Arsenal will about Villa and Arsenal need to make that threat pay. Arsenal play at home to the Premier League's worst defence next week while City play at home to struggling Cardiff and Chelsea are at home to United. It would be great if Arsenal could go into that game still on top of the table. I think they will do just that and win tonight's game by a couple of goals.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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