Aston Villa vs. Arsenal: Preview and Prediction for Premier League Clash
A couple days ago, I said in my preview of Arsenal's match against Montpellier that the Gunners needed to produce a complete performance if their thumping victory over Tottenham was to start a good run of form.
But it's still a little too early to put away your pitchforks (not that your should ever have them out in the first place). A streak isn't really a streak if it doesn't last for more than two games, and Arsenal need a streak.
The good news for Gunners fans is that they will have a golden opportunity to get three more precious points against Aston Villa this Saturday.
With only nine points from 12 games this season, a club that sank to Premier League obscurity last year is being kept in the bottom three on goal difference.
Arsenal, by contrast, could not be feeling better about themselves.
The fans are feeling better, the players are all seemingly rounding into form and two consecutive wins in important games—two!—lightening the normally bleak mood around the Emirates. Arsenal even kept a clean sheet for the first time since October 27 against Montpellier.
Their problem, as it has been for the past couple seasons, is keeping up that momentum against a lesser team. And it will not be an easy task away from home.
Villa could really use a win to give themselves some momentum, with a couple of easier games against Queens Park Rangers and Reading on the horizon. But this is certainly a game that Arsenal can and should win.
As it was against Tottenham and Montpellier, the Gunners' defense will be key, and it might well improve with the possible return of Kieran Gibbs to the starting XI. With Wojciech Szczesny back in goal, there's a certain confidence and assuredness to this unit that was not present with Vito Mannone.
If Gibbs does come back, there will be a bit of controversy regarding who assumes the two center-back positions, as Thomas Vermaelen has played left-back with Andre Santos out as well.
One has to think that Per Mertesacker is an automatic starter with the form he's in, so it will be Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny competing for that last spot. While Koscielny deserves it on merit, Vermaelen's status as captain will probably see him get the nod.
In midfield, there's no question who will start, assuming everyone stays fit through the end of the week.
Though he hasn't quite been at his best in recent games, Mikel Arteta is a sure bet to reprise his role as the beating heart of Arsenal's midfield. Right behind Arteta in terms of his importance to the team is Jack Wilshere, who, though obviously not at full fitness yet, has been phenomenal as the fulcrum of the midfield.
After his lung-busting runs, he can give the ball off to Santi Cazorla, who appears to be getting back to his best form. Fatigue caused a bit of a dip in the level of his performances, but a masterclass against Spurs might prove a turning point for him.
It's been the forwards, however, who have contributed the most to Arsenal's recent performances. Expect nothing different against Aston Villa.
If Theo Walcott's shoulder manages to heal before the game, he should play a big role. As Arsenal's leading scorer and most dynamic player, few can stop him when he has a good game. And the good games have been coming in disproportionate numbers this season.
The burgeoning partnership between Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski has produced some brilliant moments recently, and the fact that both—especially the former—have hit a rich vein of form means that Arsenal's goal-scoring struggles are largely over.
Aston Villa still have some weapons at their disposal, of course, but it really shouldn't be enough to keep up with Arsenal for a full 90 minutes.
I seem to say that most weeks, though. And my words come back to haunt me more than I would like.
This time, however, I really think that Arsenal are well-positioned for a victory and three more precious points ahead of a tough stretch of games. If the players have sufficiently recovered from their midweek battle with Montpellier, it should be fairly standard stuff for a team trying to make the case that it belongs at the adults' table.
That said, I'm very hesitant to predict any big Arsenal wins anymore. No matter what kind of form the team is in, I cant get over the old trust issues. No matter how many times I want to believe, Arsenal is just an unwilling lover.
Expect a fairly comfortable 2-0 victory for Arsenal, with a couple positive Villa moments among a boatload of Arsenal possession and chances.
A tough game, for sure, but one that the Gunners can and should win to continue their little winning streak.
Don't forget that I'll have love blog coverage of the match starting at noon, 30 minutes before kickoff, on Saturday.
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