ARSENAL: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Walcott, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Chambers, Flamini, Rosicky, Akpom
ASTON VILLA: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Clark, Richardson, Sanchez, Delph, Cleverley, Weimann, Gil, Benteke
Subs: Given, Baker, Bacuna, Sinclair, Agbonlahor, Westwood, Cissokho
PREVIEW FROM @JamrockRover
check out his site at http://everarsenal.blogspot.com/
With their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup secured it’s back to Premier League action on Sunday for Arsenal when Aston Villa come calling. The team are starting to put a good run together and have won their last four games in all competitions. Over the next few weeks they have plenty of chances to extend that run in games they should be winning.
The team has been helped by the return of so many injured players in recent weeks and it got a further boost with the signing of Gabriel Paulista this week. Arsenal have needed at least one more centre back in the squad for far too long and he looks like he fits the bill perfectly. He’s available immediately but I imagine he will more than likely make his full debut in the next round of the cup at home to Middlesbrough unless an injury to another player moves him up the pecking order.
It’s not easy to bring in good players in the January transfer window, but the club have managed to do so and we didn’t have to wait until deadline day either. As part of the deal Joel Campbell will go to Villarreal on loan for the rest of the season. Campbell’s chances at Arsenal have been very limited this season and he hasn’t really taken the chances which did come his way. Hopefully he will continue to improve his game in Spain and come back a better player who can contribute to the team or at least command a hefty transfer fee.
In team news it appears Alexis Sanchez is a doubt with a slight injury and a decision on his availability won’t be made until Sunday. With the business end of the season coming up hard and fast in a few weeks I can’t see Arsene Wenger risking his most prized asset if there is any doubt at all. Alexis wants to play every minute of every game, but he will be needed for the last 16 of the Champions League as well as some very tough league games. Arsenal travel to Spurs next week and they will want their best player in the team against their local rivals.
Otherwise the same players who were available last week will be available again and Arsene Wenger has some tough choices to make. Santi Cazorla has been in great form in the last few months, but Mesut Ozil is back and he’s one of the best players in the world in the position Cazorla has filled so well in his absence. The boss has a tough call to make and I think he will look for a way to accommodate both of them which will probably see one of them pushed wide.
I expect the strongest defence possible to play which should see the return of Per Mertesacker in central defence and probably Nacho Monreal switching back to the left. That would leave Kieran Gibbs on the bench which is probably a little harsh on him, but Monreal has been impressive and Arsenal have won the last nine games he has started. On the right it’s a close call between Calum Chambers and Hector Bellerin and I suspect Chambers will get the nod although Bellerin might be the better choice at the moment.
I would be very surprised if Francis Coquelin didn’t come back into the defensive role in midfield and I expect Aaron Ramsey to play alongside him. With either Cazorla or Ozil in front of those two it’s a strong midfield and they should get plenty of the ball.
Olivier Giroud should lead the line as the only fit actual central striker available, but Danny Welbeck should be back to face Spurs next week. On either side of Giroud I would expect to see Theo Walcott and again either Cazorla or Ozil. It’s not an ideal position for either of them, but with Alexis probably missing and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out too somebody has to play there. When those two players are both available too it’s going to give the boss a real headache, but Arsenal will have a very strong bench and some real competition for places too. That team would be a little tough on Rosicky, but he will be there to do his part if he’s called on.
Arsenal have won their last four home league games and are scoring on a more consistent basis than they were earlier in the season. They seem to be finding their mojo again and the win away to City will have given them a huge boost to their confidence. They’re playing at home to a team who are having real problems at the moment and Arsenal need to impose their game on Villa.
Villa haven’t scored in their last five games and they went through a run of five league games in a row without a goal earlier in the season too. They’re the lowest scorers in the league with only 11 goals in their 22 games while Alexis has scored 12 goals all by himself so far in the league. In fact Villa have only managed four goals away from home, but they haven’t lost any of the away games they have scored in. They have done very well to win three away games with their lack of goals.
I have no doubt Villa will defend in depth and look to hit Arsenal on the break and that tactic worked perfectly for them in this fixture last season. They have some quick players and Christian Benteke is a real goal threat even if he’s nowhere near as prolific as he was last season. I think the presence of Coquelin in the Arsenal team will help Arsenal to stop Villa picking them off on the break as he isn’t afraid to keep put and remember how important his defensive duties are.
I think Arsenal will get the win they need and win by a couple of goals at least, but it may take a little while to get there. Villa have only scored two second half goals in the league this season while Arsenal are renowned for their ability to score late on. The three points are very important to keep pace with the other teams chasing fourth place with all of them except Southampton playing the day before Arsenal.
I think third place is up for grabs for sure and a win for Chelsea against City could see Arsenal move within five points of second place. I’m certainly not saying I want Chelsea to win, but City aren’t looking too good at the moment and another defeat for them could be to Arsenal’s benefit. I never like to see Chelsea win and I certainly won’t be cheering for them, but then again I won’t be cheering for City either. In games like that I never really know who I want to win until I see my own reaction to the first goal in the game.
Anyway I’ve drifted away from the important subject matter of Arsenal and the three points they will hopefully get on Sunday. It would be great to go into the second North London derby of the season on the back of five wins in a row. They owe Spurs a beating after somehow managing to only draw the first game at the Emirates despite being by far the better team on the day.