Thursday, February 28, 2008

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa: Match Preview

Aston Villa travel to the Emirates this Saturday in order to face league leaders Arsenal in an important clash for both teams. Arsenal will be searching for a full three points to stay clear of Manchester United at the top of the table, while Villa will be looking to break into Europe by taking at least a point from the Gunners.

The Villans, who currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League, have defeated Reading and Newcastle United since losing at Fulham, and have performed admirably against the big four so far this season. A win at home against Chelsea and two draws at Liverpool and Chelsea are marred only by defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal. Mark Hughes will be hoping that his team can amend their record against the Gunners, and will feel especially confident because of the Arsenal injury list.

Arsene Wenger will be unable to choose six of his players, although Abou Diaby is expected to return to the Arsenal squad in time for the match. Kolo Toure, Eduardo, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Tomas Rosicky, and Johan Djourou will all miss the match with injury while Emmanuel Eboue will sit out due to suspension.

Villa, on the other hand, are almost completely fit, with Olof Mellberg the only injury doubt for the game.

Arsenal will likely line up with Manuel Almunia in goal behind a back four of Bacary Sagna, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. The Arsenal defenders are usually quite dependable, but will face a tough test against the guile of Gareth Barry, the pace of Gabby Agbonlahor, the pinpoint crosses of Ashley young, and the height of John Carew. It would be a huge boost for the Gunners if they could keep Villa quiet on set pieces.

In the middle of the park Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, and either Theo Walcott or Abou Diaby should be able to dominate the midfield with their passing skills while Mathieu Flamini disrupts the visitor's play.

Emmanuel Adebayor will start up front without Eduardo for the first time in a few matches, as the Croatian suffered from a horrible tackle against Birmingham last weekend. Theo Walcott is in contention for a spot alongside the lanky Togolese striker after his impressive showing against Birmingham, although Nicklas Bendtner also has a decent chance of starting. Villa have allowed a fair number of goals considered to those around them in the table, and Arsenal, the top goalscoring team in the league, will be looking to exploit this defensive weakness.

Despite a poor showing against Birmingham last weekend, Arsenal are clear favorites to win this match and should be able to do so even without some of their key players. I predict a 3-1 home win.