The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Aston Villa
David Ospina's Day Off.
- Brighton 2-3 Arsenal (FAC)
- Man City 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Hull (FAC)
- So’ton 2-0 Arsenal (Prem)
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Villa 2-1 Bournemouth (FAC)
- Villa 0-2 Liverpool (Prem)
- Leicester 1-0 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 1-0 Blackpool (FAC)
- Villa 0-0 Palace (Prem)
Arsenal are back. By 'Arsenal' we mean the clinical and defensively competent Arsenal, rather than the erratic, feckless rabble who show their faces for a few months each season. The Gunners looked confident and composed as they first frustrated champions Manchester City - winning 2-0 at the Etihad in the process - and then did away with FA Cup opponents Brighton - a match that was more comfortable than the 3-2 scoreline suggested.
In some ways this tie will actually be the bigger test of Arsenal's backbone. Playing in front of an expectant home crowd hasn't always brought the best out of the Gunners in recent years, although they have now won six in a row at the Emirates after an autumnal wobble that brought frustration against Hull, Manchester United and Anderlecht. While Arsenal's improved form has caught everybody's attention, Aston Villa seem capable of going on long winless runs without anybody really noticing. They're now seven in the Premier League without victory, a run stretching back to successive wins over Palace and Leicester in early December.
They've also gone five league matches without a goal - the second time they've managed that feat this campaign. They've scored 11 league goals all season. That's one fewer than Alexis Sanchez, who isn't even in the top three highest scorers in the division. The fact each of Villa's 11 goals has been worth two points just highlights the extent to which they've taken the 'fun' out of 'functional'.
Arsenal seem unlikely to throw new signing Gabriel Paulista in for his debut, with Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal all available to pick up where they left off against Man City.
Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder), Mikel Arteta (ankle) and Jack Wilshere (ankle) will once again miss out. Danny Welbeck (thigh) is likely to join them on the sidelines.
Villa will hope to welcome back Fabian Delph, who has signed a new deal but missed the FA Cup win over Bournemouth with an Achilles injury. Ron Vlaar (knee) and Philippe Senderos (thigh) remain sidelined.
Key battle: Alexis Sanchez vs Brad Guzan
Given Villa's atrocious goalscoring record, their hopes of getting anything from this match would appear to hang on the performance of their defensive players, and in particular their goalkeeper.
The American is used to being busy: only four Premier League goalkeepers have made more than Guzan's 69 saves this season (8 came in the recent 1-1 draw with Man United), and no other keeper has made more stops from shots inside the box.
Meanwhile, only three players have struck more on-target shots in the Premier League this season than Sanchez (30 - 3 of which came in the last home game against Stoke), so it seems likely the Chilean will test the Villa keeper's reflexes at some stage on Sunday afternoon.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 0-3 Arsenal (PL, Sep 14)
- Villa 1-2 Arsenal (PL, Jan 14)
- Arsenal 1-3 Villa (PL, Aug 13)
- Arsenal 2-1 Villa (PL, Feb 13)
- Villa 0-0 Arsenal (PL, Nov 12)
Arsenal new boy Gabriel has cited the length of Arsene Wenger's [pause for comic effect] tenure as manager at the Emirates as a big reason for him moving to north London. "[Wenger] asked to sign me and that gives me more strength and the will to be able to work," the Brazilian said this week. "I see that he’s a coach that has been here for many years and this is important, not only for the team but also for the club. This is very important for everyone that works here in the club, to have a coach like this."
Facts and figures
- Christian Benteke has scored 3 goals in 4 Premier League appearances against Arsenal.
- Only Derby (10 in 2007/08) have scored fewer goals after 22 matches of a Premier League season than Aston Villa have managed this campaign (11).
- Chelsea and Man United (12 each) are the only visiting team to have earned more points at the Emirates Stadium than Aston Villa (11) in the Premier League (W3 D2 L3).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Team who score goals to score goals; team who don't score goals to not score any goals. 2-0.