Earlier in the day I’d published a guest post with analysis of the fixtures in the run-in for Arsenal and other top 4 competitors like Chelsea and Spurs performed by Mick from Brisbane. Do check it out in case you missed it.
In his analysis Mick put Villa down as a relegation battler and noted this as one of the easier games for the Gunners. Paul Lambert’s side are definitely fighting at the wrong end of the table, there’s no argument about that. But I’m not sure this is going to be one of the more straightforward games for Arsenal. In fairness to our Aussie mate, he did say this was a subjective classification. And in theory, at least, a home game against a team sitting one place and one point above the relegation zone after 26 games should be a banker.
This season, given the unpredictable nature of Arsenal’s performances, it’s virtually impossible to predict what the Gunners will produce on the pitch. Villa have caused them some problems at the Emirates in recent years. As Arsenal.com informs us,
History must also be muffled on Saturday. Only Chelsea have picked up more Premier League points at Emirates Stadium than Villa. They nearly grabbed a victory in the opening League game at the ground back in 2006 and their recent record is a creditable W2 D2 L2.
The patterns of play should be quite predictable. Wenger’s side will go out to play the only way they know how. Villa have had a couple of weeks to prepare for this game. I’d expect them to be energetic in the midfield and press all the passes played out by the defenders with an attempt to slowly push the ball back and converge on the central defenders to force a mistake or a hoof.
It sounds simple and often is, particularly if the Gunners can’t move the ball at a fast rate and Arteta doesn’t get enough support from the other midfielders and wide players. Villa have the pace to break forward and transitions in the centre of the pitch can be dangerous.
We are also likely to see a mix of some possession play and some long-balls from the visitors. In the reverse game Benteke showed a tendency of hanging towards Arsenal’s left flank. It will be interesting to see if he does the same tomorrow or the absence of Sagna encourages him to test whoever is filling in. In either case, his ability to receive/hold the ball, and link with onrushing attackers will provide a constant challenge to the defenders. Arsenal’s central defenders have neither been consistent, nor efficient at getting tight to strikers. This could work in favour of Benteke and the visitors in general. Whether Mertesacker and Vermaelen try to close him down or not, and how they fare in their efforts, will have a strong bearing on the number and nature of chances that Villa can create.
Counter-attacks and set-pieces are always a threat against Arsenal. It’s come to a point where it seems redundant to mention this.
Apart from the goalless draw against the Gunners, Villa have only 1 point from their remaining seven games against the top 6. Their six defeats include 4,5, and 8 goal drubbings. Again, in theory, Arsenal should find enough opportunities to attack their goal and create chances.
But this won’t work out if the Gunners can’t get past their initial pressing frequently, or if they end up relying on an inefficient crossing game with a single target in the box, or if the attack is limited to two player moves instead of multi-player combinations. There is enough quality in the side to produce chances and goals but I just don’t know if it will come out or not.
Wenger’s choices for the attacking roles will also be interesting. Will he bring Giroud back into the starting eleven? If so, who will he take out? We will see six out of the following eight – Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski, Giroud, and Walcott.
The other decision to make is at right back. Jenkinson is the obvious choice but Coquelin might also be worth considering. Neither has covered himself in glory in recent outings but both have potential and deserve their chances. Jenkinson should probably get the nod considering he is the specialist for the role.
We might see,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal – Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.
Some of you might say Rosicky deserves a start. He certainly had a few bright moments after coming on against Bayern. I think it would be a bold move, particularly if he starts ahead of Ramsey. Arsenal will have greater drive when building from the back but will be slightly weaker defensively as the Czech star won’t have the same engine and work rate that Ramsey brings to the side. Wenger could go for this option if he trusts his back five and Arteta to do the job against Villa. He could also pull Wilshere next to Arteta and put Rosicky at the top of the midfield.
Given the player availability for this game and considering the fact that Arsenal don’t have a mid-week game to worry about, team selection should not be an issue for this game. Wenger can pick whatever he deems to be the best side without worrying about rotations and burn out. But will that be enough?Follow @goonerdesi