Aston Villa-Arsenal: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Accolades Earned in Greece Require Confirmation at Villa

Gunners Mustn’t let their Garde down in the Midlands.

Every Arsenal match presents difficulties but Sunday’s noontime confrontation at Aston Villa offers more than usual.  With Villa sitting bottom of the table on just 6 points it doesn’t seem like such a tough one but there are complicating circumstances.

The biggest will be the emotional and physical fatigue caused by Arsenal’s great escape in their Champions League group.  Traveling to Athens and getting the multiple goals needed to finish second in the group was a very satisfying accomplishment.  Aston Villa’s previous match, a 1-1 draw at Southampton, was played opposite Arsenal’s 3-1 home win vs Sunderland.  That match was draining enough!  To think that we went to Greece and did the job–with our injury ravaged squad–while our opponents rested and prepared should have Gooners concerned.

Add in the presence of Villa’s new manager and former Arsenal player, Remy Garde, and there has to be a worry that the manager who brought him to England, our own Arsene Wenger, might have just a bit of a soft spot for his disciple.  Garde, while still searching for his first victory with his new team, definitely has them playing better.  The point gained a week ago on the South Coast shows this, as does the one they picked up at home vs Manchester City in Garde’s first match after Tim Sherwood’s sacking.

Despite the injuries and fatigue with which Arsenal are battling, Villa’s troubles are even worse.  The woeful record they’ve compiled since winning their league opener (11 losses and 3 draws) is largely a result of losing their two best players in the transfer window.  Christian Benteke left for Liverpool while Fabian Delph is now plying his trade at Manchester City.  Rudy Gestede and Carles Gil looked promising replacements and have had some good moments.  Disappointing results, however, often exacerbated by an all-out attacking style, were not sufficient to keep Sherwood in the managerial position.

Garde has an additional headache with the off-field antics of promising youngster Jack Grealish, whom Garde felt compelled to suspend for three matches after a photo showed him partying immediately after Villa’s 4-nil loss to Everton.  He’ll be back in the squad for this match and perhaps keen to show that football–not drinking–is his first priority.  It will take some doing after the famous shot of him passed-out drunk on the sidewalk over the summer in the Canary Islands.

With all these issues plaguing the Villans many Gooners might be tempted to count the points ahead of the match.  After all, in this fixture last season, Arsenal won 3-nil on the strength of first half goals from Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck and an own goal from Aly Cissokho.  We also beat them 5-nil at home, and, of course, 4-nil in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Wenger will not want such overconfidence to creep into our mind-set and will have to figure a way to get his team fully focused after the long trip and massive output in Greece.  Will he use a largely unchanged team or will he attempt to rest and rotate after the exertions of his squad?

In almost every position there could be an argument that our players might be jaded or in the dreaded “red zone.”  We’ve avoided further injuries in the last two matches but how long can our players give their very best?  We will have a full week off before the home match vs Manchester City but then the matches come thick and fast with the hectic Festive Season schedule.

Will Wenger opt for hat-trick hero Olivier Giroud up top or will Theo Walcott, who started alongside Giroud in Greece, be given a chance?  Joel Campbell has a goal and an assist in the two matches this week; does he get another run-out, or could Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, subject of much debate here on Bergkampesque (see previous post), get the call?  Kieran Gibbs got a start on the left side of attack the last time we traveled to the Birmingham area but that one ended in a disappointing 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.

Central midfield seems much surer.  Mesut Ozil remains the creative heart of our play in the #10 position.  The injuries to Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin mean Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini complete the central group.  Many worry about Flamini’s ability to remain fit when the games come so quickly and Gooners have proposed all sorts of solutions including January purchases.  Until then, however, Calum Chambers seems to be the player being groomed as the possible fill-in.  Might this be his chance?

The rear-guard seems even more settled but some have noted that right-back Hector Bellerin has had some struggles since his return from injury.  Mathieu Debuchy has been making news off the pitch suggesting he’s open to a January move away from the team to improve his chances of representing the host nation, France, in this summer’s European Championships.  Could Wenger be moved to replace the one with the other?

For me, there are a lot of questions and I feel quite a bit less confident in my prediction than usual.  As such, I think I’ll stump for the main group giving it another go, the only change from the Olympiakos match being Theo dropped to the bench in favour of the Ox (which, in fact, would be the exact line-up which started vs Sunderland.)

Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Gibbs, Chambers, Iwobi, Walcott

What do you guys think?  Is this as tough as fixture as I think it is given the relative travels and exertions of the competing teams or should we be confident given our domination over the Villans and their extreme struggles this season?  Who would you play and how do you think this one will play out?

We’ve done well to right the ship in the league with the three points vs Sunderland and to climb the mountain and plant our flag in the Champions League draw with the big win in Athens.  To me, however, dropping points against bottom-of-the-table Villa would be a step backwards ahead of the busy end of the year calendar.

What say you, fellow Kampers?

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

15 thoughts on “Aston Villa-Arsenal: Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. Accolades Earned in Greece Require Confirmation at Villa

  • Always a hard one to recover from midweek exertions, Away, to do well in an Away fixture in the league, irrespective of the opposition. Wenger would do well to restore team focus and if you ask me, it is by trusting his squad to create some freshness. So, I look forward to seeing Debuchy, Gibbs and/or Gabriel starting; while Theo comes from off the bench. This won’t be as a result of under rating Villa but more to do with freshness and sharpened competitiveness in the squad.
    Not going to be an easy game as Garde has had plenty of time to prepare, but we would find a way to win it by a 2 goal margin.

  • Hi there HT. Yes, tomorrow is a banana skin rather than an easy passage to 3 points. They will be fresh and committed and we will need to able to deflate them early on, as we are bound to show the effects of our game time before the end.

    All the safe money would go on an unchanged side. This has been Wenger’s preference all season, and could well be again tomorrow. I will make a couple of punts here though. Looking ahead at the city game, we will want to start Walcott up front (I think) and we will need the experience of Flamini as a shield for our back 4. We also need to have some fresh energy in our game tomorrow given the huge effort the whole team put in on Wednesday night. Walcott needs to play though – he needs a good 30 min to get some sharpness back in his game, but not too much to risk him in his recovery.

    That leaves me voting for Chambers and the Ox in place of Flamini and Walcott, with Walcott on at 30 min for either Ox or Campbell (or perhaps Giroud for that matter). Debuchy on for Bell? I’m less sure of this. I don’t see a future for Debuchy with us now I fear – not on quality grounds, but he is too old to be playing second fiddle to a brilliant young RB. We are not going to keep him happy as the no 2, and I don’t see why we should compromise our game tomorrow to make happy someone who is unlikely to be part of our future.

    As well as Flamini, I’d hope we don’t make Ozil play a full 90 min tomorrow; the talk of calf injury is not something we should tempt fate over.

    It all adds up to making a strong start tomorrow – if we are nil nil at 60 min, it will be a tough final third. A statement of the obvious I know, but we could really do with scoring early and taking the wind out of their sails.

  • Cheers 17ht 🙂

    I reckon Arsene will go with same eleven from Wednesday with the hope to get the job done in sixty to seventy minutes and then rest some players. It would make sense too, unless one of our players is not fully fit.

    I will be happy with a point given the two wins this week already, and delighted with all three.

  • I generally like more rotation than Arserne does. I concede that he has a lot more technical info than us, and sees them in training, but i feel that he is always overusing Ramsey until it’s a disaster…,and for example, i would not have used Alexis in the last start. Many of us said that before he had to leave the game. So i guess that wasnt second guessing…

  • HT, the only point of contention in your line up is Ox for Theo. Both need game time to regain match fitness. At the moment not much to choose between the two, but looking ahead, as Ab indicated, Theo should be made ready and used as a striker against Man C. because their playing style suits his movements.

    Also Alexis is being expected back next weekend, meaning we can afford more time on the Ox for getting back to match sharpness. So, I expect same team of midweek.

  • Barcelona, PSV and Manure dropped points this weekend in, on paper, easy games, and Citeh were very lucky to score a very deflected, late winner, which are all indications that the post CL weekend games are tough nuts to crack. I hope we somehow can squeeze out a win after which the team have a week’s rest. CoyGs! 🙂

  • Thanks HT a great preview, lots of good questions, and I go with your line up, with perhaps Walcott in for Ox and each playing their part. I think Ox would be better off the bench than Theo at this stage. Or maybe they are both fully fit now and Giroud can have a breather and come off the bench.. Also I want to see the Ox learn the Alexis position on the left, including the tracking back of course, which so far he has been poor at, but these silly mistakes and lack of fortune should be left behind with a run of games. I think it has been just down to a mixture of rustiness, low confidence and not being established yet… and Campbell looked better on the right against Olympiakos. Yes we played in midweek but I get the feeling the game was more mental than physical as we ended up 3-0 winners and Olympiakos could not handle our quality when they had conflicting goals of defending the 2nd place vs getting a goal. It left them open, and I think means our lads as long as they have the focus/turn up to play (which has been our downfall) we will have the legs to win well. Also Flamini needs to hold and be disciplined with Ramsey helping and reminding him of that. I would also like to see Chambers for Flamini in the second half.

  • Mental preparation is vital with this young and evolving team, and Wenger needs to get them switched on if they are not already. Yes TA that weeks rest will be important both mentally and physically. I think with so many games the physical condition of the players is being tested but mind and body are one.. The attitude has to be spot on.. Thinking of Jack Grealish for example ending up being in the newspapers collapsed drunk (in the Canary Islands was it) earlier this year, and recent shenanigans haha I am not saying our players are like this, far from it but the current football culture outside of training and matches in the few rest periods they have is not conducive to their development. When they do have a rest like in the summer some let it all hang out, and I just feel the modern footballer has a tendency to being a bit soft. That can increase the chance of physical injury. They should look to Alexis, he may be injured now but he should have got injured like this a long long time ago if we compare him to other not so tough, driven and dedicated players.

  • Interesting post 17…

    As AB says, ‘banana skin’ in bright flashing warning lights…
    Agree with Total, same XI, try and get job done before fatigue kicks in…
    Walcott can have a run later in the game to keep Villa in their box and to warm him up for City, agree with Total again…

    Today is gonna be a bloody hard game, the Villa fans can create a big big atmosphere if their team get on a roll…
    I’ve been to Villa Park many times and seen strong Arsenal teams overwhelmed by the occasion….
    So I wouldn’t be suicidal if it was a draw… 😉

    A good 8 days rest to City after today…
    That’s gonna be a season defining game….

  • Unchanged 11 it is. Hope they can get ahead and ring the changes – and that Flam can last it without joining the crocked list! I’m keeping everything crossed.

  • Hey there fellas… Very early out here… Same 11 as in Greece with the manager hoping the confidence–not the fatigue–carries over…

    Who is Jordan Veretout?…

    Should I go for another live-blog?

  • FMJ, yes this is all about mental preparation and Allezkev is right that the atmosphere at Villa can be daunting. A great ground that reminds me a bit of Highbury. The boys need to start at a high tempo and not allow the Villains into the game at all. Let’s hope Theo has lost some of that golden brown rust of him as veer the last few days! CoYG

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