When I was growing up, Boxing Day was about Test cricket. Normally, there are two or three matches that start at different grounds around the world and with holidays in school, I used to love watching all of them. This has changed over the last few years. Nowadays, the time just after Christmas is all about non-stop football. It’s already started well with Chelsea dropping more points away from home to a resilient Birmingham.
Arsenal can make this one of the best festive periods of recent years if they continue the home form against Martin O’Neill’s side. A tough task indeed as the visitors have lost fewer games than Arsenal so far. Given their record against other top four sides this season, we might even consider this game as one of the hardest. Some creative folks have already labeled this a grand slam opportunity for Aston Villa.
Last season, the visitors took all three points as we failed to convert our dominance in terms of possession into goals. Villa have done the same to the other top sides this year and will come to the Emirates with the intention of making it hard for us to break them down. Arsene knows what we need to do offensively and defensively. He is quoted on the Arsenal website saying,
Yes, they caught us on the break last season. This year I believe we know what their strength is. Our job is to prevent them counter-attacking and being audacious enough to take the game to them.
It’s interesting to note the combination Wenger has identified. I feel, at times, we have been afraid of taking the game to opposition. We have paid the price for this against teams like Burnley, Sunderland and Chelsea. Hopefully, being at home, we will have higher confidence and spirit of adventure.
I am also keen to see if we can prevent Villa from counter-attacking. Fulham showed how Arsenal can be troubled by long balls into the inside right and left channels. The visitors have also mastered the art of attacking through those areas and we will certainly have a tough time controlling the likes of Agbonlahor.
However, the biggest threat from Villa comes via their organization. They hardly, if ever, lose their defensive shape and the midfielders track back every single time. We will need to be at our creative best if we have to unlock this defense. The longer it takes for us to score the first goal, the harder the game will get.
Cesc, has been rated as 50-50 to start this game. I think Arsene will put him on the pitch if he can jog. El Capitan is by far the most important player in our squad and we will need all his creative talent if we want to prevent the visitors from achieving their grand slam.
Arshavin is another who can change this game. Villa haven’t played against our Russian genius and they could be in for a small surprise. He’s already scored in big games and sometimes you need a moment of individual magic to break down a resolute defense.
Traore is back and that’s a relief. Silvestre would have struggled against the pace of this Villa team. Our full backs are going to face their toughest test so far as the visitors boast of some of the best wide players in the league. Young, Downing and Milner are all capable of explosive bursts down the flanks. They are also extremely accurate with their crossing. Sagna and Traore will have their work cut out as they try to contribute in attack as well as defense.
Team selection will give a clue as to how Arsene sees this game. I have a feeling he will start Cesc in place of Eduardo and push Diaby up front on the left as Arshavin moves into the center. It will also be interesting to see if Eboue gets a start in the front three. It will certainly be a sign that the boss wants to be extra cautious.
I would like to see this starting line up,
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Veramelen, Traore; Song, Cesc, Denilson; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin
I think we will nick this one by the odd goal in three.
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