Thursday, November 29, 2007

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal travel to Villa Park this Saturday to face Martin O'Neill's on-form Aston Villa.

The Gunners will be looking to get back on track after losing to Sevilla on Tuesday, their first loss in any competition since April. Still, Arsene Wenger's squad will be confident, as the loss came on foreign soil with a depleted squad. An Arsenal win would keep the Gunners at least 3 points clear of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League.

Aston Villa are one of the few team's whose recent form can match Arsenal's, though, having won their last four games. Villa, who are currently placed 6th in the Premier League, could move within three points of Arsenal were they to win on home soil.

Their cause will be strengthened by a long Arsenal injury list, and not a single injury of their own (although Nigel Reo-Coker misses the game due to suspension).

Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb, and Gael Clichy are all very doubtful, and Robin van Persie is still out injured. Arsenal will, however, welcome Mathieu Flamini back into the squad, after the Frenchman picked up a knock while playing for his country.

Manuel Almunia will start in the away goal. Arsenal's defense will most likely be missing Gael Clichy, so Armand Traore may start in his place. Kolo Toure and William Gallas will start in the heart of the Arsenal back line, while Bacary Sagna slots in at right back.

Alternatively, Sagna could be switched to the left, with Emmanuel Eboue defending the right. However, Arsene Wenger enjoys fielding his youngsters so he may give 18 year-old Traore another chance to shine.

Arsenal will likely field a five man midfield with Robin van Persie still missing. Mathieu Flamini and either Lassana Diarra or Gilberto are likely to play in defensive roles, while Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue track along the left and right wings respectively (unless the Ivorian is played at right-back). Neves Denilson is likely to start again in the center, but Wenger could also play Rosicky as a central attacking midfielder and Eduardo or Theo Walcott on the left wing.

Personally, I would like to see Rosicky in a central midfield role with Walcott's pace terrorizing the Villa defense. Unfortunately, I think that Wenger will be more conservative, placing the Czech Republic captain on the left.

Up front Emmanuel Adebayor will start alone, still missing his prolific Dutch striking partner.

Arsenal will face a tough challenge against a strong Aston Villa side. O'Neill's squad has scored more goals than any other Premier League team other than Arsenal and Everton, and Gabriel Agbonlahor and the tall John Carew will be a tough test for our defense.

Gareth Barry and Ashley Young will also be quite a handful for our back line, but hopefully Gilberto and Flamini will provide enough cover to keep Villa out of our net.

Even with some big names missing, Arsenal's midfield should be able to boss around the possession, but even the lanky Emmanuel Adebayor will find it difficult to win a header against a huge Aston Villa back four.

I expect that we will find a way to goal through some intricate passing though, and I therefore think we can win the game 2-1. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be too disappointed at coming away from Villa park with a point.