Aston Villa — Arsenal (Premier League)
Arsenal visit Villa Park knowing that they’ll need the three points to stay atop of the Premier League table. And it won’t be a walk in the park, so to speak. In the opening game of the season, in the reverse fixture, the Gunners fell 1-3 to the Villains at the Emirates. Was that an indication of what was to come for both sides? Not by a long shot! Arsenal went on to lead the table and have only lost twice in League ties, to the two Manchester squads. As for the Villains that was one of the five victories they have on the competition.
Aston Villa are 11th with 23 points. In case they win on Monday they’ll have the chance to put some space between themselves and their direct competitors. Hull City and Stoke have suffered at the hands of Chelsea and Liverpool, respectively. For that they’ll have to beat the Londoners, something they have already done early on this run. Since then, however, a lot went down for the Villains and they’re not going through their best moment exactly. December brought four defeats and a stalemate. January saw them beat Sunderland 0-1 away and been set off of the FA Cup by Sheffield United (1-2). A good one against the Gunners is just what they need to break this stretch of negative results.
Charles N’Zogbia and Jores Okore are ruled out. Ron Vlaar, Joe Bennet and Nathan Baker are in doubt. Ciaran Clark returns following suspension. Forward Libor Kozák broke his leg during practice last week and should be out for the rest of the season.
Probable line-up: Guzan — Lowton, Vlaar, Clarck, Luna — Bacuna, Westwood, Delph — Albrighton, Benteke, Agbonlahor.
That’s the problem with playing last, you get to see direct competitors getting ahead. Both City and Chelsea did what they were supposed to, win their fixtures and climb up temporarily to the first and second places. Now they’ll be waiting for Arsenal to stumble so they can maintain their standings. Before week 21 started the Wenger’s men were leading the table with 45 points, one above anyone else. Things at top four are pretty tight, but the Gunners have been able to stay afloat. All things considered they rely solely on themselves.
Loosing Theo Walcott for the rest of the season, combined with Bentner’s injury, has made things a lot tougher for the Arsenal. Chances to sign the talents of world-class players are slim in the January transfers and bringing somebody in just because you must doesn’t suit Arsène Wenger. He will play the assets he has in house first and then continue to be on the lookout for great sales. The 24 year old English international provided versatility to Arsenal’s front end. An in form Oxlade-Chamberlain could help fill that void, but he is just starting to regain fitness. Who knows how long it will take him to be he’s not-so-old self? Quite surprisingly when Giroud and Bentner became unavailable the Frenchman fielded Serge Gnabry.
Theo Walkcott’s ACL injury, picked up against the Spurs, will keep him out of the pitches for six months. No World Cup for the English winger. He’ll join Diaby, Sanogo, Gibbs and Bentner in treatment room. Olivier Giroud missed last weekend to illness but should return on Monday. Aaron Ramsey is not entirely fit yet and will probably be spared. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up a knee injury on the opening game of the season facing Villa that has kept him off since then. He’s now returning to form and would be nice to see him come in from the bench.
Probable line-up: Szczesny — Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal — Wilshere, Arteta — Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla — Giroud.
Aston Villa will play host to a very distinct Arsenal team on Monday than the one they beat last August. Ozil became a Gunner to begin with. They have the confidence and resilience of a team that has been in front of the table for most of the time. Wenger and his pupils have had to overcome adversity — lack of depth, injuries, disbelief — and they are still hanging on, neck-to-neck with major spenders as City and Chelsea. Failing at Villa Park could seriously damage their odds to win the title so I think this will be an all-in moment for the Gunners. Want to bet?