Aston Villa Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups
After the Asia Tour and the Emirates Cup, the Gunners believed that they were ready to fire all cylinders in the new campaign. Aston Villa opened the curtains at the Emirates sunshine and when Olivier Giroud scored the first goal of the game, it seemed as if was business as usual before Anthony Taylor’s poor officiating paved the way for Christian Benteke to score two goals, sending the Emirates into delirium.
Five months on, the Gunners are within touching distance of the summit of the Premier League table while Aston Villa is languishing in mid-table with a poor run of form. Villa’s shock victory back in August will have provided optimism for the club’s fans, but Paul Lambert’s men have picked up just five wins in 19 subsequent Premier League fixtures.
The Gunners ended the year with a run of poor results but they have rallied to pick up points against Newcastle and Cardiff while ousting Tottenham in the FA Cup. Aston Villa on the other hand, had lost four games on the trot before earning a draw against Southampton and defeating struggling Sunderland away to end their wretched run of results.
While the Gunners have advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup to take on Coventry, Aston Villa was embarrassingly dumped out of League One outfit, Sheffield United. However, the Gunners still have to be wary about the counter attacking threat Aston Villa poses with Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor identified as two players to watch out for.
Weimann plays as a kind of midfielder when Villa don’t have possession, but once they do, he springs forward in support of Benteke. Agbonlahor has also been on good form, scoring two goals in his last two games and with the goals still drying up for Benteke, the home side will look to their speedster to come up with the goods yet again. Agbonlahor’s direct running and pace will be a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh and I truly hope he doesn’t replicate the form he showed at the Emirates in August.
No team has scored the first goal in more Premier League games this season than Arsenal (15). Conversely, no side has scored the first goal on fewer occasions this season than Aston Villa (5). The Aston Villa defense is very leaky and this is evidenced with the fact that they have kept just two clean sheets in their last 21 home league matches.
The Gunners have scored more headed goals than any other team in the league this season (9), so they are bound to pose a threat from set pieces. I hope Per Mertesacker would do a lot better in the air this time around. It’s also worth noting that Arsenal are unbeaten in 14 Premier League trips to Villa Park, winning seven and drawing seven, which is the club’s longest away run without defeat against a single side in Premier League history.
To injuries, Aston Villa will give late fitness tests to Nathan Baker (hamstring) and Ron Vlaar (calf). Both players missed Villas’ FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United along with Gabriel Agbonlahor. However, the forward is set to make a return to the squad while Brad Guzan is also declared fit to face the Gunners.
Joe Bennett and Chris Herd are still lacking match fitness while Libor Kozak (broken leg), Jores Okore (knee) and Charles N’Zogbia (Achilles) are long-term absentees.
Arsenal also have a lengthy injury list, with Theo Walcott going under the knife to mitigate his anterior cruciate ligament injury. According to the Mirror, the surgery was successful and Kieran Gibbs took out some time to see his buddy in the hospital. With Theo Walcott scoring five out of Arsenal’s last nine goals, other players will have to step up for the Gunners to ensure victory
The Gunners will also be without Nicklas Bendtner (ankle) while the game would be too soon for Kieran Gibbs (calf) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh). Abou Diaby (knee) and Yaya Sanogo (back) are probably being used as lab specimen for some experiments in a lair in Transylvania. The Ox recently returned to full fitness and he would be in contention for a starting berth.
The Gunners will arrive in West Midlands in bullish form, bearing in mind that they always get favorable results in Villa Park. Aston Villa’s cause isn’t helped with the fact that they’re in a poor run of form, while their opponents are finding their feet after a stuttering end to 2013.
I expect the lineups to look like this,
With a place at the summit up for grabs, the Gunners will have to utilize the opportunity in front of them. Chelsea won away, Manchester City won away…the Gunners have to win away as well.
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