Arsenal host Aston Villa in Sunday’s Premier League clash.
Barring the FA Cup win last season, this current wave Arsenal are riding is probably the highest under Mikel Arteta to date.
New signings have not only bedded themselves in fluidly but have established themselves as part of the furniture, an increasingly heavy monkey has been removed from our backs and a fourth consecutive Europa League campaign has got off to a solid start.
All of that will be forgotten in a flash if Arsenal come up short at home to Aston Villa. Forget Old Trafford triumphs. Forget Gabriel Magalhaes being the best damn centre-back in the world. It’ll be back to criticisms and hardships.
As good as the win against Manchester United was, the same concerns remain: three consecutive Premier League matches without a goal from open play. Sunday must indicate a corner has been turned.
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It’ll be a somewhat emotional affair with Emiliano Martinez returning to his former stomping ground, just a few short months on from departing north London for £20m. However, as soon as the game kicks off, every Arsenal fan will join in unison in wanting him to concede as many goals as feasibly possible.
The side heading to the Emirates have began to come unstuck. Four wins on the spin, including that remarkable 7-2 annihilation of Liverpool, had punters eyeing up another 2015/16 style title win. Frightfully premature calls, they proved to be.
Since humbling the champions they’ve conceded seven goals across two home league fixtures, accruing not a single point. The wheels have come off and their defence looks frail. They do, however, possess a certain Jack Grealish.
Here’s your preview of Arsenal’s visit of Aston Villa this Sunday.
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Things are looking up for Arsenal on the injury front. Slowly but surely the central defensive slot in the team is bulking up with numbers, as there are now five options at Mikel Arteta’s disposal.
Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers are still to return and will be available for selection perhaps even before the international break, but definitely afterwards. With the options available, it still appears likely that Arteta has found his ideal pairing in Gabriel Magalhaes and Rob Holding, who will start on Sunday barring any late complications. As will Thomas Partey and the in-form Mohamed Elneny.
One player who was supposed to feature against Molde FK was Reiss Nelson, but a knee scare forced a late change and he sat out as a precaution. Even if he is deemed fit for Sunday, he is unlikely to be in the squad. Gabriel Martinelli is still on course to be ready for the turn of the year.
For the visitors, they’re looking in fairly decent shape ahead of making the journey south, with the only notable absentee being Bertrand Traore, who hobbled off early into their recent loss to Southampton. He will be assessed on the weekend.
Goalkeeper Tom Heaton and striker Wesley are still on the road to recover after sustaining long-term injuries, although Villa have already seen to their absences with the signings of Martinez and Ollie Watkins.
Arsenal: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Elneny, Saka; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Aston Villa: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Luiz, Barkley; Grealish, Watkins, Trezeguet
Arsenal vs Aston Villa Score Prediction
Fans are still reveling in the victory over Manchester United, and for good reason. However, all of that effort will be for nothing if Arsenal fall flat on Sunday, something I expect them to do.
Dean Smith got the better of his opposite number at the end of last season, with Villa taking advantage of our set-piece weaknesses and putting bodies in central areas with no fears at all about crosses being whipped in. Their big centre-halves aren’t the most gifted, but their sheer size ensures they’re a handful in both boxes.
Take the recent Southampton loss. They conceded four goals, but had 19 efforts at goal, ten of which were on target.
Arteta will feel the heat in the Monday morning papers if Arsenal don’t win this one, and my fear is that the physicality Villa have in the centre of the park will limit Arsenal’s options from wide areas. With the players at his disposal, Arteta is seeking high turnovers and forced errors as key routes to goal. While that can bear fruit, I can’t see it being enough on Sunday.
Both sides will score. If Arsenal get the first, they’ll win. If not, it’ll possibly be a Desmond. But heck, what do I know? I do fear the worst, though.
Score Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Aston Villa