Four games in the next 13 days should give Arsenal sufficient opportunity to bounce back from the recent disheartening defeat against the League leaders. Given the state of injuries in defence though, Arsene will have to take things game by game. There isn’t much room left for tinkering, particularly at the back. And without his strongest defence the manager might not feel too confident about giving some of the fringe players a game during the holiday period.
At Villa Park, at least two changes will be forced as Djourou and Song will miss out due to injury and suspension. This means either Squillaci or Miquel will have to start in defence. Neither is an ideal option but if the team has to accommodate likely errors, it’d be better to invest in the future and give the youngster a chance to improve.
In the midfield, Song’s absence could open the door for Frimpong or Coquelin. I can’t see the likes of Benayoun or Rosicky perform the Cameroonian’s role effectively. But Wenger could go for one of the experienced players if he feels confident that Arteta and Ramsey can share the defensive burden.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Miquel – Coquelin, Ramsey, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
I have gone for Coquelin as he seems to have better technical abilities. So far he hasn’t really had a chance with most of the first team and I want to see how he does with some quality players around him. Arsene could pick Frimpong if he thinks the side is losing some physicality with the loss of Djourou and Song.
With Heskey joining Bent on the sidelines, Villa’s attack should be about the pace of Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia. Coquelin’s game intelligence can also come in handy to thwart counter-attacking opportunities. Watch out for a number of long balls down the channels. But the Frenchman might not be that useful in defending set-pieces, the hosts’ other major attacking threat.
McLeish created a very strong defensive unit at Birmingham that was tough to beat at their home. So far he hasn’t been able to recreate the same at Villa. Dunne and Collins are what I consider typical British style defenders – big, lumbering, slow, and heavily reliant on tackling and physicality. Along with Hutton and Warnock, this is not a defence that should keep Arsenal out. I believe this game is tailor-made for Gervinho to shine but the Ivorian will have to do much better with his final ball and finishing.
If the Scottish manager does revert to type, I am worried Arsenal could return from this trip further depleted by injuries. His Birmingham side wasn’t shy of kicking players on and off the ball, and with the likes of Hutton at his disposal, McLeish could set his side up to beat Arsenal, literally.
The tempo of this game will have an impact on the result. Arsenal will win it with relative ease if they can move the ball at the speed we saw in the previous game. But if we get one of those “lacked sharpness” days, Villa will be able to control the game defensively and get more bodies forward in attack. It will make the game a more even contest, in which case the hosts can steal a point or three.
A lot of fans believe this particular Arsenal side is mentally stronger and will bounce back from the defeat instead of getting caught up in a negative spiral as some of the recent units have done. They don’t really have much room for slip-ups as a couple of bad results during the Christmas period could see the Gunners drop down to sixth or seventh, if not worse. On the other hand, a strong run could put Arsenal back in the top four if Chelsea don’t get a grip on their erratic form. Let’s see which Arsenal side turns up at Villa Park.