Sunday, 15 May 2016

Arsenal v Aston Villa Preview

A very disappointing season comes to an end for Arsenal today when they play at home to Aston Villa. It's been a season of what could have been and probably what should have been too, but ultimately it delivered nothing. At the turn of the year the league was there to be won, but all the old failings came back to haunt us in a far too familiar fashion.

There's still something to play for today of course with the possibility of finishing anywhere from second to fourth place still up for grabs. To finish second Arsenal need to win and Spurs need to lose at already relegated Newcastle which I just can't see happening. As long as we don't lose we will finish above City in third and qualify directly for the group stages of next season's Champions League.

On the face of it a home game against one of the worst teams the Premier League has seen in a long time is the ideal way to finish the season. In past years I would have been very confident of Arsenal handing out a thrashing to a Villa team who's only away win was on the opening day of the season and have only managed 17 points in their 37 games to date. Even with nothing really at stake, Arsenal should be looking for a very comfortable victory today.

The fans will get to say goodbye to a few players who won't be around next season, but we don't know if Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky or Mathieu Flamini will get to play a part in proceedings today. Arteta came in at a time when we were really struggling and helped to steady the ship when it looked we were on our way out of the elite. He's the club captain and by all accounts a great influence in the dressing room and it will be sad to see him go, but he's been past his best for quite a while and injuries have curtailed his chances and performances.

Rosicky promised so much when he joined 10 years ago, but we never got the best out of him as he struggled from one injury to another. He's a very talented footballer and he could have been a huge part of the team during his time with us, but it wasn't to be. Players of his ability who stay at a club for as long as he did usually become legends, but his continued absences will mean he will be fondly remembered even if he fits into the "what could have been" category.

Flamini is a curious case who came back to train with us a couple of years ago when he had no club and we ended up offering him a contract. I would be with those who saw it as a backward step, but he did become a cult figure at the club. That doesn't mean he was good enough though, but he did at least beat Spurs almost single handedly in the Capital One Cup this season.

I'm not so sure we'll get to see those three play a part today because the game still has some meaning and none of them are anywhere near the team at the moment. I would imagine we'll see the strongest team possible play today as they look to finish the season on a high and put any pressure they can on Spurs. I would be surprised if the team differed too much from the one which drew at City last week and surely a strong Arsenal team has to be too good for a poor Villa team.

Villa drew 0-0 at home to Newcastle last week and it was the first point they managed in 12 games. After just avoiding relegation last summer they sold their best two players and replaced them with inferior players. Their fate this season comes as no surprise and they have been far and away the worst team in the league this season.

Second place might be out of Arsenal's hands, but they have to give it their all in an attempt to manage their highest league position in 11 years. There is still a possibility of Newcastle beating a Spurs team who have faded badly in the last few weeks. Newcastle may have been relegated already, but they have done relatively well at home this season and they will hopefully want to see their fans off on any high they can manage before playing in the Championship next season. 

In Arsene Wenger's 20 seasons at the club we have always finished ahead of Spurs despite them coming very close to catching us a couple of times. It looked like a done deal in their favour in 2006 until a dodgy lasagne put paid to their hopes and hopefully they have a similar dish on their menu today. Anything that can give Arsenal, or Newcastle for that matter, an edge will do very nicely indeed.

Looking back in a few years a second place finish and finishing above Spurs yet again will possibly be seen as some sort of improvement, but this season has been a huge failure for me. I'll deal what that more in my season review which will come in the next few days, but the biggest issue for me has been the lack of goals after failing to sign a striker last summer. When you see the seasons Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez and to a lesser extent Javier Hernandez have all had it's so infuriating to know how we possibly could have had any of them in recent history. 

Olivier Giroud has been on a terrible run since January, but the manager has persevered with him in recent weeks and he has finally brought some goals and assists to his game. It would be just like him to play his best game of the season today and for the manager to tell us we don't need a striker after a performance like that. 

I can't imagine anything other than a compressive Arsenal win today and I think Villa will fold once they let in the first goal. The sooner we get that first goal the better and if we go ahead with Spurs drawing or losing it will put some pressure on them. We're playing for crumbs I know, but those crumbs would offer us some comfort at least. I don't think Spurs will lose, but we at least have to play as if we think they will.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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