Why Villa deserve a little credit amid the drought – and how Arsenal can break them down

Paul Lambert's side aren't bottom of the league for one good reason, writes Alex Keble...

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Thanks to the coma-inducing tedium of Aston Villa's matches, their excellent defending goes mostly unnoticed. It is well worth noting, however, that Villa have conceded just seven times in their last 14 matches, while only Southampton and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals away from home.

With Arsenal's slow build-up play and Villa's deep-lying and compact defensive structure, this match could be difficult for the Gunners to win.

Villa's defensive system is a remarkably deep 4-5-1, a tortoise shell of bodies that sit together on the edge of the penalty area and allow the opposition to dominate possession across two thirds of the pitch.

The idea is to limit space in the final third by refusing to be pulled out of position, jockeying the player in possession and remaining compact in front of Brad Guzan. Despite their admirable defensive record, Villa rank 17th in terms of tackles and interceptions made in the Premier League.

This system was utilised to an exaggerated extent when the two sides met in September, with Villa averaging 28.6% possession. Although defeated 3-0, Lambert's men have become considerably more organised since.

Arsenal were allowed to pass the ball freely in front of Villa's congested penalty area, and although the scoreline suggests an easy victory, Villa defended very comfortably, only collapsing for a brief four-minute period.

If there is one player who will be able to pick the lock this weekend, it will surely be the magnificent Alexis Sanchez (2.7 key passes, 3.5 dribbles per match). His movement and dribbling speed have torn through the sternest of defences, and if Santi Cazorla plays with similar menace as exhibited against Manchester City a fortnight ago, Arsenal may – eventually – break Villa down.

Even Mark Hughes' Stoke couldn't prevent Sanchez from dancing through their ranks, and Cazorla's return to form can only help the Chilean find space.

For more tactical analysis, follow Alex Keble on Twitter.

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