14 May 2016

Aston Villa Preview: could Arsenal still top Tottenham?

So it comes down to this. On one hand, we've secured a top-four position with one match to play. On the other, there's still a glimmer of a chance that we could pip Tottenham to finish not third, but second. It would take a win for us and a loss for them, but stranger things have happened. Resist the urge to resurrect memories of 2013, when it was us facing Newcastle and Tottenham hoping for help. With roles reversed somewhat, do we dare to dream? Far better that we take care of our own business without worrying about results elsewhere. Much.

After all, we've not quite secured that third-place finish. ManCity three points back but with a superior goal-difference, visit Swansea, who have won their last two by a combined 8-2 scoreline. Then again, they lost the previous two 7-0. Much as I'd love to see Fabiański do us a solid by keeping a clean-sheet against City, I doubt we can count on him to come through.

'Twixt the two—Tottenham and Man City—a draw would secure third for us, and a win could earn us that third-place finish, sparing us in the process another Champions League play-off. Those are no small potatoes coming on the heels of Euro 2016, in which a fair few Gooners will perform. If we're to launch the 2016-17 season in any kind of style, we would do well to lock down that third-place finish and save ourselves the angst of having a two-leg playoff against Fenerbahçe or Beşiktaş.

Therefore, it's paramount that we pummel Villa. In theory, that should be easy. The Villans have won but three matches all season and are conceding nearly two goals per match while scoring fewer than one per. They were relegated in mid-April with four matches to play and in the midst of an eleven-match losing streak, a streak they "broke" with a scoreless draw against Newcastle. Cakewalk.

Then again, we've hardly set the world alight ourselves. Aside from a gritty draw at the Etihad last weekend, we've limped and lingered along against squads in the bottom third of the table. Even if we suggest that a few have been fighting to stave off relegation, it's hard to look ourselves in the mirror these days. If we can summon the grit and resilience we showed against Man City again on Sunday against Villa, it'll be lights out for them. If, however, we play the part of polite hosts as we did against Norwich the weekend before, well, it'll be up for grabs.

I know that he's hardly the fashionable choice of late, but I have to think that Olivier Giroud is the one to watch in this one, and not just because he scored and assisted against Man City. He showed the grim, determined look of one focused on getting a result rather than celebrating a moment. Against Villa's back-line of Clark, Lescott, and Becuna, I'd fancy the Frenchman to fight his way free to find the back the of the net at least once. That should be enough to earn us a draw, if not a win.

LAST 3
Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal (13.12.2015)
Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa (30.05.2015)
Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa (01.02.2015)

FACTFILE
Aston Villa have not scored against Arsenal in four matchs.
Arsenal have scored 14 goals against Villa in four matches.
The two clubs first met on 1 August 1904, a 1-0 win to Woolwich Arsenal.

INJURIES
Mertescaker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Welbeck have all been ruled out. Özil faces a late fitness test but should be available.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech, Monreal, Chambers, Koscielny, Bellerín; Coquelin, Ramsey; Alexis, Iwobi, Walcott; Giroud.

While not quite claiming that Villa will mail it in, Arsenal should walk away with this one.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa.