Aston Villa vs Arsenal: 4 key clashes to look out for

Arsenal vs Aston Villa: 4 key clashes ahead of Premier League showdown (Photo by Visionhaus)
Arsenal vs Aston Villa: 4 key clashes ahead of Premier League showdown (Photo by Visionhaus) /
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Arsenal, Bukayo Saka
Arsenal’s English striker Bukayo Saka (Photo by FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

Bukayo Saka vs Jack Grealish

While it would be easy to list either forward alongside their opposing full-back on that flank, the fate of the England internationals will be dependent on their own influence.

If Bukayo Saka can be as devastating as he has been this season, running Matt Targett ragged in the opening exchanges, Grealish will, consequentially, see less of the ball in advanced areas. The two are good friends and have doubtlessly exchanged jibes at one another in the build-up, knowing their own threat will limit that of the other.

Smith will be all too aware of Saka’s danger, thus it wouldn’t be overly surprising for him to sacrifice one of his forwards for a winger and leave Grealish to play more centrally. In doing so, he reduces his defensive requirements and allows him to stay closer to the Arsenal danger zone.

Blows will be exchanged from either side with spells of possession going back and forth. At the Emirates earlier this season, Villa proved themselves to be dangerous during both dominant spells and in blistering counter-attacks. Saka was caught napping in the left-wing back role and conceded an own goal, not having the impact he usually does.

He and his opponent will be forced to do both sides of the game on Saturday and whoever balances their defensive output with potency in attack could swing the tide. They’ll have to mark each other, just as they’ll want to cancel each other out.