01 February 2015

Arsenal-Aston Villa Preview: No Alexis, no problem...

It seems like Sunday’s clash brings us two clubs moving in very different directions—Arsenal, winners of four in a row (and boasting of three clean sheets to boot), and Aston Villa, whose only wins of late have come against Championship sides Bournemouth and Blackpool in the FA Cup. They’ve not scored a Prem goal in mid-December and haven’t won a Prem match since beating Leicester in early December. Here’s hoping that we can add to that list of woes on Sunday.

It’s not that Villa have been completely hapless, not by any stretch other than these recent winless one. They’ve frequently fought hard, and have new signing Carles Gil to add some creativity and pace to an attack that is often too ponderous and one-dimensionally dependent on Christian Benteke’s aerial ability—think Stoke with Bojan alongside Crouch. He delivered a wonderful goal against Bournemouth in his second appearance, having played 30 minutes against Liverpool. The recent addition of Scott Sinclair on loan from Man City may not have happened soon enough to allow the winger a chance to join the squad. 

Paul Lambert has to be desperate to find ways for his squad to score goals—with only eleven Prem goals scored to date, Villa have almost half the goals of the next-worst squad (Sunderland have 19). However, they’ve actually done pretty well at the other end, conceding 25 goals, the same as Arsenal.  Credit keeper Brad Guzan, who has made kept seven clean sheets, the same as more-luminous names such as Courtois, Hart, and de Gea while having to face many, many more shots behind his less-stalwart defense. We’ll have to test him early and often, which might be a bit harder if Alexis is in fact unavailable; reports suggest that he has picked up a hamstring issue. Without him, others in the squad will certainly have to step up. Hopefully, Walcott and Özil will have shaken off enough of their injury-induced rust to pick up the slack.

With Chelsea and City drawing, we have a rare chance to close that gap a bit; more vitally, we have to keep pace with Southampton, Man U and Tottenham, who each won on Saturday.

LAST 3:
  • Villa 0-3 Arsenal (20.09.2014)
  • Villa 1-2 Arsenal (13.01.2014)
  • Arsenal 1-3 Villa (17.08.2013)

FACTFILE
  • The two clubs first clashed on 8 October 1904, 1-0 to the Arsenal.
  • Chelsea and Man United (12 each) are the only teams have earned more points at the Emirates Stadium than Aston Villa (11) in the Prem.
  • Arsenal are undefeated in 27 of their last 28 home matches in the Prem.

INJURIES
  • Alexis may be rested, while Welbeck, Arteta, Diaby, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Debuchy have all been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
  • Ospina, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Coquelin, Rosický; Özil, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.
Villa look to anemic even with recent additions to trouble Ospina while Guzan will have his hands full holding off an Arsenal attack that looks livelier than it’s been all season.

PREDICTION Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa