The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Arsenal
This is the only chance we’re going to get to say this: Title-chasing Villa host crisis-stricken Arsenal. OK, we’ll probably be here again with Arsenal...
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Liverpool 0-1 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 2-1 Hull (Prem)
- Villa 0-1 L Orient (LC)
- Villa 0-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Villa (Prem)
- Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 2-2 Man City (Prem)
- Leicester 1-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-0 Besiktas (Prem)
- Everton 2-2 Arsenal (Prem)
New faces, same problems. Arsenal just can’t seem to get it right, even when they do splash the cash. Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League exposed the Gunners’ reccurring issues: lack of defensive cover and a midfield bereft of physicality and protective instincts.
There’s no denying Arsenal spent well over the summer bringing in Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina, but they needed more – especially with the departures of Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna.
Had Arsene Wenger reinforced his defence he wouldn’t have had to give 19-year-old Hector Bellerin his debut in such a big game. He instructed Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs to follow the normal mantra of bombing forward, leaving the Gunners exposed when they lost the ball high up the pitch – a weakness Paul Lambert will aim to expose.
The Scot will also look to target Arsenal’s top-heavy midfield. Dangerous going forward, weak tracking back. Mikel Arteta doesn’t have the mobility to cope with teams that attack with speed and precision. It doesn’t help when he’s got no one in there helping him. Arsenal’s attack-minded midfield doesn’t have the defensive nous to help the Spaniard, often leaving him to be trampled over.
It’s not all bad for the Gunners – they have a cadre of wonderfully creative players and while their start to the Premier League campaign has been slow, it’s been far from disastrous.
Aston Villa – picked by many pundits to struggle this season – are second in the Premier League table. Yes, we’re only four games into the season, but Lambert’s miserly Villans have recorded three clean sheets so far.
Roy Keane’s input, plus the recruitment of Aly Cissokho, Philippe Senderos and the re-introduction of Alan Hutton have helped to forge a strong defensive unit – one that managed to shut out Liverpool at Anfield last weekend – with Gabby Agbonlahor scoring an unlikely winner.
If Lambert’s troops can repeat the same trick against Arsenal it will see them secure their first win over the Gunners at home since 1998. Since Dion Dublin’s late winner, Villa have claimed just seven points from 15 games against Arsenal at Villa Park.
Arsenal’s kit maker – PUMA – must come up with a suit of armour for the brittle north Londoners to wear. Every time the Gunners step out onto the pitch they suffer a casualty. Jack Wilshere joined their walking wounded after turning his ankle in Dortmund, but the 22-year-old has since insisted he's "fine".
The Gunners will also be without Debuchy for a lengthy period after he sprained an ankle during Saturday's 2-2 draw with Manchester City. Spanish full-back Nacho Monreal, who missed Tuesday’s game in Germany, will be back in contention for selection at Villa Park.
Villa’s Dutch defender Ron Vlaar will have a late fitness test ahead of Saturday’s game against the Gunners. The weekend’s visit of Arsenal will probably be too soon for Belgium striker Christian Benteke.
Player to watch: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
It all started so well for the German. Pundits and fans alike were full of praise for the £42.5 million man after he wooed them with his mesmeric playmaking. But this honeymoon period hasn’t lasted long. His nonchalant style of play – once seen as effortless brilliance – is now perceived as a poor work ethic. Ozil was slammed in the British and German press after his dismal display against Dortmund.
He’s in the team to create and did very little of that. The former Real Madrid man made just 23 passes in the whole game – 16 players surpassed this total. Just three of these came in the attacking third. He did even less to help his team defensively, failing to make a single tackle, block or interception.
There’s no doubt he has to give more, but Wenger has to play him in the right position. With the Frenchman trying to crowbar a plethora of creative talents into his starting XI, Ozil has been deployed on the right hand side of a midfield four – a role more suited to a player with pace, who likes to get in behind.
Ozil is far more effective when played centrally, behind the striker, where he can deliver the killer ball. Wenger needs to scrap the 4-1-4-1, revert back to a 4-2-3-1 and play the German in the No.10 position. With Wilshere out injured, Wenger could try two from Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Arteta in front of the back four, with Alexis Sanchez out left, Ozil through the middle, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Welbeck leading the line. Ozil is due a big performance. If utilised correctly, he has the ability to do it.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- 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 3-0 Villa (PL, Mar 12)
Wenger is already under pressure as his tinkering with the formation fails to get the best out of the attacking talents he has at his disposal. The Frenchman must pick his team up from another disappointing defeat and nurture Welbeck’s self-belief before his spendthrift finishing becomes a confidence crippling issue.
Claret and blue boss Lambert has earned himself a new four-year deal after the team’s impressive start to the season. The Scot deserves a lot of praise for his work at Villa Park.
Hamstrung by a paltry transfer budget, he’s managed to blood a number of young players into the team and keep the club in the top tier.
Lambert has given outcasts Hutton, Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent another chance in the first team, as well as bringing in Premier League experience in the form of Senderos, Kieran Richardson and Joe Cole and added Keane to his backroom staff. All gambles – all of which have paid off... so far.
Facts and figures
- Darren Bent has scored 8 goals in his last 11 appearances against the Gunners in all competitions including 5 in his last 5.
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 15 Premier League visits to Villa Park, winning 8 and drawing 7.
- Villa have had only 6 shots on target this season – a league low - but have gained 10 points (W3 D1).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Villa’s stingy defence will prove hard to break down for an Arsenal side rocked by injury and defeat. 1-1.