Arsenal will be looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season midweek when they travel to Villa Park on Saturday.
A virtual second-string team were humbled 3-1 by Sevilla in the Champions League and will want to get back to winning ways against an Aston Villa side sitting as high as seventh in the Premiership. Unfortunately for Arsene Wenger’s side, they are likely to be out with four key players for the clash, with Cesc Fabregas joins Gael Clichy, Alexander Hleb and Robin van Persie on the injured list after tweaking his hamstring in Seville. However, Wenger did reveal some good news for Arsenal by announcing that Mathieu Flamini will be available for the trip.
“I don’t know how long it will be for Cesc. The worst case for him realistically is 10 days. We have a slight chance to get Gael Clichy and Alexander Hleb back. Mathieu Flamini will be available. Of course Van Persie is still out.”
There will not be many tougher away games than the one that Arsenal face this weekend against Aston Villa, and the test will made tougher by their high-profile list of absentees. Fabregas and Hleb have struck up an instrinsic relationship on the pitch that will be greatly missed and left-back Clichy has been one of the club’s most consistent performers this season. All three will be sorely missed.
The major issue with the injuries of course surrounds which players will play in the place of the injured quartet. Armand Traore was well out of his depth against Sevilla midweek but when it’s all said and done, Villa do not have anyone on the right in the mould of Daniel Alves and as such, I wouldn’t be against the youngster getting another chance to prove himself. Neither Gilberto Silva or Denilson impressed midweek and with Lassana Diarra not appearing, I’d expect Wenger to start the latter alongside Flamini in the middle of the park.
A danger game for Arsenal
Emmanuel Adebayor is certain to return to the side and, irrespective of the formation, I would expect Theo Walcott to partner him. Eduardo da Silva and Nicklas Bendtner were probably Arsenal’s two best players in Sevilla but Wenger’s belief that Adebayor and the Danish striker cannot play together and Eduardo’s unconvincing Premiership form thus far suggests that both will sit on the bench. I wouldn’t be against Eduardo being given a chance to start against Villa and Walcott being used in a supersub role but I just can’t see it happening.
As for the rest of the side, Manuel Almunia should continue in goals and William Gallas will return to form the much-needed defensive partnership with Kolo Toure. Bacary Sagna will slot in at right-back, and Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue – who was excellent against Sevilla – should take up positions on the left and right flanks respectively.
Despite Arsenal being on the losing side against Sevilla, the midweek game was an absolute cracker and I’m expecting something similar at Villa Park. Martin O’Neill has assembled a strong squad of players and Arsenal will need to keep an eye on the likes of Ashley Young, the storming John Carew and of course, supposed Arsenal target Gabriel Agbonlahor. Defensively, Villa boast three top-class defenders in Olof Mellberg, Wilfred Bouma and Martin Laursen, the latter arguable the club’s best performer so far this season. Despite his horror mistake for England, Scott Carson remains one of the top goalkeepers in the Premiership and will make life very tough for the Arsenal forwards.
In my opinion, this is a big danger game for Arsenal. It has nothing to do with a crisis, nothing to do with the midweek loss to Sevilla. It is about Arsenal travelling away to a side playing to the peak of their powers at the moment without a number of key players. A win would be fabulous but a draw looks a more realistic outcome for an Arsenal side that should be defensively strong but may struggle to win the the midfield battle without Fabregas and Hleb. Controlling possession will be the key for Arsenal and if Flamini and whoever partners him can stamp their authority early on then it could make all the difference. However, I’m going for 1-1 and with Arsenal still three points ahead of Manchester United with a game in hand I wouldn’t be unhappy with that result.
What do you think?
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