Opening Day Reversal—3 points a Must to Keep Pace at the Top
Arsenal head to Aston Villa hoping to reverse the extremely disappointing result from the opening match of the season. In that one, despite opening the scoring with an Olivier Giroud goal, Arsenal conceded 3 and felt victimized by referee Anthony Taylor, who not once but twice gave Aston Villa penalties (and a pair of yellow cards to Laurent Koscielny) while ignoring repeated fouls on our players. The result also played out amidst a background of a very disappointing transfer window, one where management had made great declarations about our money to spend, yet none (to that point) had been. The team left the pitch that August day to a chorus of boos, even if most of the frustration was aimed at manager Arsene Wenger.
The season was off to the worst start possible…
From that woeful day, the Arsenal season has been on an upward trajectory. First came the announcement that former Gunner, Mathieu Flamini, would join the team on a free transfer followed by good wins at Fulham and vs. Tottenham Hotspur. Their spending of nearly 100 million pounds on a series of players (to help mitigate the impending departure of Gareth Bale) made them appear an ambitious if almost completely revamped team. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t penetrate our defences that day, and another Giroud goal was the difference. The next day we announced the signing of Mesut Özil from Real Madrid and the circle was complete. North London lost one up-and-coming star (Bale) but received perhaps the greatest assist-maker in the game in return (Özil). That it was Tottenham’s loss and Arsenal’s gain (perhaps) made our summer of torture (almost) worthwhile.
Match by match, Arsenal have righted the ship and been the big surprise of the first half of the season. Of course, true supporters of the club don’t see it this way and believe the real aberration was the opening day loss to Villa. Marrying a player of super quality such as Özil to a squad that showed extreme mettle in closing a 7-point gap in the final 10 matches last season to finish 4th and recapture our Champions League position, we had hoped to pick up where we had left off. That opening day was a giant hiccup, but the remainder of the first half of the season has been much better, and tonight we have the chance to make amends.
Predicted Starting Lineup
Coming a full nine days after we (again) beat Tottenham, this time in the FA Cup, tonight’s match should see Arsenal fielding a very strong first 11. Kieran Gibbs is close to a return, but Nacho Monreal will surely start at Left Back. Wojciech Szczęsny should return as our keeper, while the remaining defenders will likely be Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny; a group which will be seeking its 5th consecutive clean sheets in all competitions.
In Midfield, Aaron Ramsey has not recovered sufficiently from a thigh injury, so I would predict a dual-pivot of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini with a more forward 3 of Santi Cazorla, Özil and Jack Wilshere.
Olivier Giroud, passed fit after missing the last two matches, will surely start alone up front. It’s also possible that Wenger will go with a more attacking midfield, starting 18-year-old Serge Gnabry, brilliant in his start vs. Tottenham at right wing. He could reprise this role and assert his ability to fill the large hole vacated by Theo Walcott, injured in that match and out for the season. Such a move would likely move Wilshere back at the expense of either Flamini or, more likely, Arteta, who required a late substitution in the FA Cup tie.
Tomáš Rosický also has every right to claim a starting spot in attacking midfield on the strength of his performance vs. Spurs. Nonetheless, I predict he will be a bench option. Ironically, this match will see the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who sustained a major knee injury in the opener. I suspect the Ox, along with Lucas Poldolski, will start on the bench but might be employed if we’re chasing a result late on.
Aston Villa, despite their bright start to the season, have not been playing well recently (only a single win and a draw in their last seven matches in all competitions) and have injury issues of their own. Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker are both question marks in defence, although Gabriel Agbonglahor has been deemed fit enough to play. He’s been the bright spot in attack in recent games as one of last season’s biggest surprises, Christian Benteke, has failed to find the form that made him a major summer transfer target and eventually won him a big contract keeping him at Villa. A potential starting 11 for the opposition could be Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Luna, Bacuna, Westwood, Delph, Albrighton, Benteke, Agbonlahor.
How the Match Should Play Out
In the opener, Villa seemed unafraid to play a very up and down game, and I expect a similar early approach here. They have the pace and power to hurt us on the counter, and if we are able to wrest control of midfield possession, they might settle into that sort of pattern. Bacuna has scored some great right-footed free kicks, so looking for fouls outside of our 18-yard box may be a real tactic as well. It should be recalled that in this same fixture last season we played a very dour nil-nil draw (in foul weather) and, if Villa can keep the score tight, defending and holding out for a point might suit them as well.
I predict another strong performance by our defence and commanding work in attack by a buzzing midfield working off the big presence of Giroud up front. My predicted scoreline in this one is 2-nil to the Arsenal, with goals from Cazorla and Özil (and assists from the latter and Giroud).
Regardless of the scoreline, a winning result is imperative given that the other top 4 clubs (ManchesterCity, Chelsea and Liverpool) have all notched away wins this weekend. Finally, we should be extra motivated and fully concentrated for this one as it represents a chance to avenge the pain of the opening day.
What do you think? Please join me (us?) in the comments before, during and after the match. Go on you Gunners!
Written by: 17highburyterrace
Bergkampesque is an inclusive blog and we welcome constructive comments from Gooners and other supporters: the more the merrier. We always welcome new bloggers to comment and share in the debate as long as they stick to the blog guidelines (see at top of page).
You can also sign up to an automatic email service informing you when a new post has been issued. See ‘Follow Blog via Email’ on right hand side.