So Christmas is over and it’s back to the football today as Arsenal take on Aston Villa. Our boys currently sit third in the league with Villa a spot behind only on goal difference so it looks to be an excellent contest.
The big news going into the game is the possible return of Cesc Fabregas. Arsene Wenger has rated him as 50:50 to play so there’s no certainty he will feature, but the return of the captain would be a huge boost to the rest of the team. He is the player most capable of making the inch-perfect passes we need for our attacking game to flourish without a physical presence and the manager must be feeling a huge temptation to play him even if he’s not 100%.
There is a risk involved of course and I feel the manager may err on the side of caution. Alex Song is leaving for Africa shortly and any further aggravation of Cesc’s injury would leave our midfield without the two key members for a period choc-a-block full of games. While I will be hoping to see Cesc start I don’t think I would personally like to see him play if he’s not fully fit. Abou Diaby had a great game against Hull and I see no reason why he couldn’t perform again in the absence of the captain.
One player who is likely to be returning to the side is Armand Traore. The Frenchman has been passed fully-fit by the manager and his pace may come in invaluable to helping curtail Villa’s threat. Their attacking game is based on the extreme pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, the power of John Carew and Emile Heskey and the crossing ability of Young and Stewart Downing, so both of our full-backs will have to work extremely hard on their wingers to prevent the crosses coming in. For all of Traore’s flaws he looks to be a much better option than Mikael Silvestre for this particular game and it will be reassuring to see him back.
The importance of this game cannot be understated. A win would not only help us make some more ground up on Chelsea at the top but also give us some breathing space from the chasing pack of Villa and Co behind. Villa are in extremely good form at the moment so beating them would also send out a strong psychological message to the rest of the league that we absolutely mean business this season. Meanwhile a loss would see Villa leapfrog us into third and send out more doubt that our players tend to struggle against the bigger sides.
It is imperative that our back four as well as Song have good games, while a confident and commanding performance by Manuel Almunia would make life a lot easier for a defensive group that will be bombarded in the air. Villa like to play swiftly on the counter so it’s important our midfield works as a unit to both starve the away side of possession and organise quickly when we lose it.
Up front we’ll be looking for more inspiration from Andrey Arshavin while Samir Nasri should start again after being cleared of the stepping incident against Hull. That will leave one spot up for grabs which will probably go to either Theo Walcott or Eduardo. My thoughts are that the manager may feel Eduardo’s return to form and the scoresheet midweek was an indication that he has turned a corner while the pace of Walcott as well as Carlos Vela may be better used off the bench.
It’s going to be a big one. Here’s to three points.
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