I will be surprised if anyone reading this doesn’t know Arsenal have now won 6 in a row in the League. Most will also know that only Barcelona can match that winning streak on current form in the top 5 leagues across Europe. That’s impressive. And it looks even better if we see that only 5 teams have had better runs throughout the season. Inter, Manchester City, and – this might surprise some readers – Levante have managed 7 game winning runs earlier this season while Dortmund got 8 and Madrid 11.
With a win against Villa at home Arsenal could go joint third on that list and retain their top spot in the current hot streaks category. But the interesting point to note here is that few teams can sustain a winning run. It ends sooner rather than later. The last time the Gunners won 7 in a row was in October 2007. Unbeaten sequences can go on much longer but getting three points game after game is much tougher. Just as a side note, the longest unbeaten streaks of this season are 28 games (Real Madrid) and 20 games (Borussia Dortmund).
So the question is, how long will Arsenal’s winning streak last? At the moment we don’t need to look past the next game for the answer. The question can be posed again if the Gunners get the three points on offer.
On the face of it this should be a banker. Villa are in 15th place on the table and have won only 3 away games all season. They’re without Darren Bent and Richard Dunne, arguably their two most influential players at either end of the pitch. Agbonlahor hasn’t scored in 13 league games. Yes, Villa have picked up the most points at the Emirates than any other visiting side but this team is quite different than the ones that have troubled Arsenal. More importantly, on current form, this Arsenal side does not seem comparable to the ones that lost points at home.
But we all know football is rarely so cut and dried. There is a reason winning streaks are not very long. Many reasons in fact. The games at this level are so close that a refereeing decision, or a momentary lapse in concentration, or a heroic effort from the opposing Keeper, or even a fluke pinball goal for the opponents can convert a win into a draw. A team could perform really well for the majority of the game and walk away losers. Just ask Liverpool. Aston Villa have only lost 3 away games thus far so the Gunners will have to produce a performance that 11 other teams failed to do.
As far as the specifics of this game go I think it will be very similar to the Everton game barring a few minor differences. Villa have greater pace and individual skill on the ball in the attacking areas. But they don’t have the same kind of physical presence as Everton do. This means their threat will mainly come from players like N’Zogbia taking defenders on. If they succeed they can create higher quality chances and will have a better chance of scoring. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a threat from crosses or set-pieces. Just that they have a better chance of getting in behind Arsenal than Everton had and a higher probability of scoring if their players can get service in the final third. Ireland and Petrov have the ability to play some defence splitting passes. Villa will also be a bigger threat on the counter-attack and with shots from distance.
In defence they will be just as well organized and committed as Arsenal’s other recent opponents have been. The Gunners have found a way to score and win those games and should be able to do the same in this one if they can sustain a high tempo or find a few bursts that are hard to defend against.
Villa have relatively weaker players in the full-back positions. Hutton, for instance, is prone to making rash tackles and can be troubled in one-v-one situations. Warnock too can struggle for pace and positioning. McLeish will try to get them support from the wider areas but the wings can be Arsenal’s big creative channel.
Their central defenders could dominate the box in the air but Van Persie can trouble them with his movement as they are on the slower side.
Due to their Bolton game being postponed, Villa have had a midweek break and will be fresh. Arsenal, on the other hand, just won a gruelling tie at Everton and some players will surely be feeling the effects of that. Wenger has been tweaking the tactics in the last few games and his selection for this fixture will give us further insight into his thought process.
In an ideal scenario rotating a few players would help. Arsene does have some choices for his team selection. Santos could come in for Gibbs. I am not in favour of that as the Brazilian hasn’t had enough minutes on the pitch since his recovery to start a game. Gervinho and/or Oxlade-Chamberlain could light up the flanks with their energy and pace. There is some merit to this but that would mean leaving out Ramsey and/or Walcott, or even Rosicky.
Since Arsenal don’t play again till next Saturday one could also argue the players don’t need that much of a rest. I’d go with the same players that did the job at Everton,
Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Ramsey.
But something tells me Wenger will have a surprise or two in store for us. At home he might go with two quick and direct wingers. That could mean a start for Gervinho on the left. Certainly from the point of view of attacking the full-backs this would seem like a positive choice. Let’s see if Arsene wants more technical balance or greater thrust.
Broadly speaking, I expect goals in this game, at least three. Depending on when and who scores the first there could be more, but I will be very surprised if there are fewer. I don’t wish to dampen the spirits of anyone but Phil Dowd is in charge so fingers crossed.Follow @goonerdesi