Arsenal take on Aston Villa in the Premier League on the back of two wins on the spin. Confidence should be high, and our entire squad is pushing in the right direction.
Our eleven in the win over Man United was vastly different to the one that saw off Molde – and both sets of team were at the races. Mikel Arteta has rotated his team and it has resulted in our Europa League group looking positive and our squad at their best in terms of energy levels.
But Aston Villa have enjoyed a fruitful season so far, with some astute acquisitions propelling the Villans up the League table. Dean Smith hasn’t abandoned his attacking principles, but he now has a squad that is more capable of doing what he needs.
This is a dangerous game. It’s the last before a two week international break. A win leaves the squad in a positive frame of mind and higher up the table. A loss or a drop of points and it leaves things very different.
After three losses, this is a game that we can’t really afford to lose. A side that is aspiring for the top four really doesn’t lose these games – and Arteta will be painfully aware of this.
Who will he name for his team in this clash?
David Luiz returned from injury in our 4-1 win over Molde in midweek, but after his injury, it will probably mean he is rested for this game. With Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes both rested, they should return to the side.
Both Bellerin and Tierney were also rested for our Europa League clash, and they will likely return. What is more intriguing is in midfield. Both Partey and Elneny were huge against Utd – are they now our first choice in the centre? Or do Xhaka and Ceballos come back in? Does Arteta name a three and Ceballos perhaps teams up with the two African midfielders?
In attack, both Auba and Laca are refreshed and primed for action. Both Willian and Pepe played against Molde, but Saka was rested and should slot in.
Player to Watch
Most would name Jack Grealish here, but Barkley has been a revelation since joining on loan from Chelsea, and he has played a part in Grealish playing with such glee.
Barkley’s runs from midfield give Villa a different dimension and take the heat away from Grealish. He can beat a man with his pace or his footwork, and he likes a shot from outside the box. Barkley has really flourished under Smith and the attacking intent and if we are to have a problem, it’ll be Barkley in the middle of that.
How this could go
We haven’t been in great form on the pitch, but we were in control against United. But Villa will come at us. We need to put the game under control quickly.
If we pass the ball quickly, then Villa will struggle. Feed Auba and his pace and movement will tie up the likes of Mings and that means we will lean on Saka for creativity – no other player has created more since last season.
But we could still need something else. If Villa put two on Saka, then a substitute could change the game. Pepe or Willian may be instrumental from the bench.
We need Elneny and Partey to keep Grealish and Barkley quiet, but the best way to do that is to keep them in their defensive third. If we attack and move with pace, we can get the win and hopefully do it in a way that keeps Villa’s strengths quiet.
This match could be a nightmare or a win that convinces us that this season holds promise. I’m going for the latter.
Predicted Lineup – Leno, Bellerin, Gabriel, Holding, Tierney, Partey, Elneny, Saka, Pepe, Auba, Laca
Predicted Scoreline – 4-2 to The Arsenal
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