Arsenal FC: Predicting the Starting Lineup vs. Aston Villa
Oh to be an Arsenal supporter right now!
Experiencing easily the brightest patches of play so far this tumultuous season, the Gunners cruised into Goodison Park to claim three much-needed points against Everton.
And that is saying something, considering Everton hadn’t lost since the beginning of January, which only came to an end last Tuesday during the Merseyside derby. Along the way the Toffees took out Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur and David Moyes’ men were looking to ruin Arsenal’s scintillating run of form.
But a towering Thomas Vermaelen header in the eighth minute gave Arsene Wenger’s squad the full share of the spoils, and ultimately leapfrogged their London rivals in the standings at the end of the day.
Arsenal have no time to relish their jump in the table though, as another crucial game against Aston Villa looms around the corner. Saturday’s match at the Emirates will see the Gunners defend a 6 game winning streak and try to distance themselves from Spurs and Chelsea.
Let’s take a look at who Wenger should roll out to start the match against the Villans.
GK: Wojciech Szczesny
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
The Gunners’ shot-stopper put in a performance fans are beginning to get accustomed to seeing: steady, authoritative and efficient.
Sans a nice stop on a Nikica Jelavic strike, the 21-year-old Pole had little to do on the afternoon, as Everton failed to really test the Arsenal defense. Nevertheless, Wenger has finally found consistency in the net and it appears the goalkeeping duties are Szczesny’s for years to come.
His instincts are incredible and the leadership he possesses is commanding. The initial start of his Arsenal career might have been a little bumpy but his displays of late have gone a long way in dispelling any notions of criticism.
DEF: Bacary Sagna/Thomas Vermaelen/Laurent Koscielny/Kieran Gibbs
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Although the game against Everton was one of the easier matches to deputize, the Arsenal back four will go unchanged heading into their tie against Villa.
Vermaelen is the Gunners’ new scoring hero, and while his defensive skills are world-class on their own, his uncanny ability to come about and score is oh so timely. The burly Belgian has five league goals thus far and all of them have come during Arsenal victories.
Koscielny, Verm’s partner in the heart of defense, is also having a stellar campaign and his rise to prominence shows a lot about his work ethic and the encouragement Wenger provides the Frenchman. As the season nears a crucial spot, his name should be in the discussion for Team of the Season and Kos shines brightest when Arsenal needs it the most.
Kos’ compatriot Sagna is easily the best right back in the league (a title he has stripped from Patrice Evra) and his absence with a broken leg was the biggest reason Arsenal were so poor defensively a few months ago. With injury problems behind him and his availability consistent, the right back position belongs to the former Auxerre man and Wenger credits the development of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain this season to Bac’s influence.
Kieran Gibbs in my opinion was the most outstanding of Arsenal’s defenders Wednesday, and although Verm decided the outcome, the England international was menacing throughout and took full advantage of some of Everton’s lax tracking. He was able to constantly get up the park and provided some intricate crosses for his attackers, who were often wasteful with such chances.
MID: Alex Song/Mikel Arteta/Tomas Rosicky/Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Arsenal’s midfield put in a bossy performance against the Toffees, holding Everton in their tracks most of the game and willing to do the defensive dirty work when needed.
Alex Song savors the opportunity to get stuck in, and he at times effortlessly won his challenges throughout the match on Wednesday. Yet his passing game is what I have come to appreciate the most from the Cameroonian, and his competence on the ball has come to light this season.
Along with Song, Mikel Arteta’s return to his former club was highlighted by his ability to not only win balls but connect the attack instantly. The Spaniard couldn’t have asked for a better Liverpool homecoming, but he is a Gunner now and he must continue to inspire this midfield at both ends of the pitch.
Tomas Rosicky had an off night but that is acceptable considering how far the Czech has come this year. Still, he is crafty on the ball and Wenger should keep the 31-year-old in the fold strictly because of his experience and guile.
I think Wenger should sacrifice Aaron Ramsey for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Villa, as the Welshman still looks out of sorts at times and was wasteful in the offensive third throughout the night. Ramsey deserves some leniency considering it appears he is yet to recover mentally from his horrific injury, but the Ox is a spark and has found his niche sitting in the hole under the strikers.
FWD: Robin Van Persie/Gervinho or Theo Walcott
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Wenger’s attack proved them to be providers rather than the usual finishers they are, as Robin Van Persie popped up to assist Vermaelen with an inch-perfect pass from a corner.
The Dutchman is an automatic starter and he will most likely feature against the Villans, unless Wenger decides to give him some rest. The striker will be eager to get a run out on Saturday though, as he spurned many chances against Everton and will look to avenge those misses.
Theo Walcott had an anonymous appearance against Moyes’ men as he had contributed little on Wednesday offensively. He wasn’t his sprightly self and perhaps a bit of rest will do some good.
If Gervinho is given the nod, he will need to take the opportunity and run with it. His small cameo against Everton flashed some freshness in the Ivorian’s legs, and he desperately wants to get back into starting contention after admitting suffering mental fatigue upon returning from the African Cup of Nations.
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Arsenal have no new injuries to worry about, something Wenger hasn’t experienced for a majority of this season. That being said, his squad selection should be relatively unchanged because of how successful the Gunners have been to this point. Plain and simple.
It is easy for Arsenal fans to get ahead of themselves with the results that have been rolling in, but Wenger and his squad will be the first to admit the task is far from finished. Saturday’s encounter with Aston Villa will be viewed the same way as previous games have: a must-win.
Wenger has stuck by his choices this entire year, and although many critics were quick to point the blame at him for their position earlier, he has risen above everything. That is what makes him so brilliant in my opinion; it is as if he instinctively knew he could guide his men through those murky times.
Confidence has been the key to the Gunners’ resurgence, and Wenger has adamantly stuck by his players all along. Not once did he ever throw someone under the bus or divert the negativity away from himself, he just rode it out like a man and exhibited his true class as a manager.
The Aston Villa game should be an easy three points in the bag, and I hope that I am right. That being said, Arsenal will continue to meticulously prepare for this match and treat it as serious as a cup final.
And that is the attitude Wenger has instilled into this team, and with recent outcomes supplying evidence to such practices, it looks to be an entertaining ride the rest of the year.