Arsenal's Premier League Game with Aston Villa Previewed

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Arsenal's Premier League Game with Aston Villa Previewed
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Arsenal have won six Premier League games in a row, and they have now risen to third in the table. What looked like being a long hard struggle to claw back Spurs was suddenly overcome in a few short weeks. They are now favourites for an automatic Champions League spot, and hopefully they can live up to the billing.

Tomorrow afternoon they face a home game against an Aston Villa team who have only won three times away from home so far, this season. On the face of it Arsenal should be able to dispose of Villa in a  run of the mill fashion, but football is rarely so easy. Villa may only have won three away games so far, but they have only lost three also.

In fact the only team to lose less away games than Villa are the leaders Manchester United, and it means Arsenal cannot take Villa for granted. Villa are the draw specialists on the road with eight draws so far, and they would be perfectly happy to increase that number to nine. I have no doubt their game plan will be to prevent Arsenal playing, and hope for a lucky break at the other end.

The Villa fans were less than happy when Alex McLeish was given the manager's job at their club last summer. Not only had he come from their fierce local rivals Birmingham, but his Birmingham team had just been relegated to the Championship. He may have led them to Carling Cup glory against Arsenal last February, but he had failed where it really mattered in the league.

McLeish's teams play an unattractive brand of football at the best of times, and their main aim is usually to stop the opposition scoring. If they can somehow manage to score a goal on the break or from a set piece they are more than happy with their days work. It doesn't make for attractive viewing, but hopefully Arsenal will be the ones doing the entertaining tomorrow.

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Arsenal played on Wednesday night and managed to come away from Everton with a hard fought 1-0 victory. Villa's game with Bolton was postponed because of the events surrounding Fabrice Muamba, and it means they have had a week off. They should be a lot fresher than Arsenal considering how much work Arsenal had to put in to get the three points against Everton.

While Arsenal have been on their fantastic run of six wins in a row Villa managed to win their first game in five by beating Fulham last weekend. They have only scored three goals in those five games, and they have conceded four. If Arsenal don't score early on it could be a very long afternoon for their players and fans too.

I'll be lucky enough to be among those fans in the stadium for the game, as I make my third trip of the season to see Arsenal play. So far I have been at the victories over both Sunderland and Everton, and hopefully I can make it three out of three. I'll be meeting plenty of fellow Arsenal fans before and after the game in the local watering holes.

Arsene Wenger said there were no new injuries to report after the win over Everton besides the usual bumps and bruises. It means he has a very strong squad to pick from, and he might be tempted to make a change or two to freshen the players up a little. 

I would be surprised if he tampered with the defence, but Andre Santos is ready to return and Kieran Gibbs is very brittle. In midfield I think he has to stick with the same three players who have served him so well in recent games. The big choices will come for him when he decides on his attacking trio.

A little bit of RVP at his best

Both Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott are certainties to start in my opinion, but he has to decide who to play on the left. Aaron Ramsey played well on Wednesday night, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a player who can really make things happen in a game. I think Chamberlain should be the one to play, but who am I to tell Wenger who he should pick

 

Whatever team he does pick should be good enough to get the three points, as long as they approach the game in the right manner. The effort and determination in the last six games has been exceptional, and now is not the time for them to ease up. The mental strength of the players has been questioned very often over the last few years, but at the moment it cannot be questioned.

Besides scoring 14 goals in their last three home league games Arsenal have also won three very tough away games. Sunderland, Liverpool and Everton are no mugs at home, but Arsenal managed to beat them all. The mental strength needed to ride out those games was impressive, and very welcome too.

I think Villa will do all they can to frustrate Arsenal tomorrow, but Arsenal's quality will eventually get them a win. I'm predicting a 3-1 win, but I would settle for any win at all. If Arsenal can score early enough to draw Villa out of their shell they might have a much better day.

In late January, Villa came to Arsenal in the FA Cup and took a 2-0 lead into half time before Arsenal emerged after the break to tear them apart. Some more of the intensity from the first 10 minutes of that second half would be very welcome, and very hard for Villa to cope with too. Villa did win away to Arsenal towards the end of last season, but Arsenal were in free fall at the time.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Before the Arsenal game kicks off, Chelsea will play at home to Spurs, and it's a game of great interest to Arsenal. They are the two teams directly behind Arsenal in the table, and at least one of them will drop points in that game. I think a draw would be a great result for Arsenal in that game, and it would offer Arsenal a real opportunity to open a bigger gap on the two of them. 

 

After today's game Arsenal have only one midweek game left this season, and there should be no more issues with player fatigue. Hopefully the players will be able to stay fit too as they won't be giving it their all every three days. I'm looking forward to looking at the Premier League table tonight, and seeing Arsenal in a very stable third spot.

At the end of the transfer window in August, I had hoped that Arsenal might be able to finish third, and it's in their own hands now with eight games to go. Hopefully they can keep their hands firmly on their own destiny, and finish the season on a high. The real work to return Arsenal to genuine title contenders will begin then, and Wenger has said he will be looking for quality not quantity. 

It won't be easy to find the players Arsenal need, and to convince them to join the club either. Finishing third would certainly be a help for him to lure players to the club, and to keep RVP too. If Arsenal can get a win today, they will be well on the road to that goal. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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