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EPL Match Day 15: Arsenal v Aston Villa; Match Preview

You’ll pardon me if I quote from the BBC’s preview of this match:

Villa manager Gerard Houllier once said of friend and Gunners counterpart Arsene Wenger that he “can eat, talk, sleep and drink football, and then come back for more.” It is a passion Wenger would dearly love to instil in his players.


Will Arsenal show up?

 You’ll pardon me if I quote from the BBC’s preview of this match:

Villa manager Gerard Houllier once said of friend and Gunners counterpart Arsene Wenger that he “can eat, talk, sleep and drink football, and then come back for more.” It is a passion Wenger would dearly love to instil in his players.

And that is what it comes down today – where is the heart and focus of this team. With heartbreaking (to fans and players alike) losses to Spurs and Braga, this has not been a kind week to anyone associated with the club. What it now requires is herculian focus on what sport is about – winning. Arsenal are a team built in a respective way for many reasons – to be financially sound, to devleop young talent, to play the game the right among them. But it is also a team that has to win. Everything else is great and Arsenal fans are thankful their club is built this way, but winning is an end result that must happen for this club to realize its full potential.

To me this a club chock full of talent. Sure there are some players that we all would deem not suitable to wear the red and white but overall there is enough talent here for this club to be successful. It is hard for fans who have been spoilt by the success under Wenger to understand those that say that this club is about to realize its promise. Seems like all talk. But I agree, this club is about to realize its promise. I suspect that hadn’t Vermaelen gone down some of the concerns we have wouldn’t be there and we could very well be top of the league right now. But we aren’t and what is needed more than anything else in this squad is a leader. A bona fide call teammates on the carpet leader.

More than someone who can display skills on the field, the team needs somoene who rallies the troops when they are up and gets them to focus. When they let in a goal they need someone to challenge them in the moment to step it up. Maybe it’s not the Captain. Maybe it is just someone with the nerve and steel to challenge the players. There are different types of leaders and right now the “hard assed” type is what we lack the most. I will say that the person I think best exemplifies this on the squad is Vermaelen. He came in and challenged the club right away. He was always a stalwart and ready to give the extra necessary. Right now we have a lot of talented players who “quietly” go about their business. However, when their business lets them down they don’t seem to have the necessary gumption to rally themselves.

My case in point is when Ramsey went down. The horrific look on the players faces, an incident in the past that caused the team to crumble. But who was on the field that day – Sol Campbell. In the now hallmark picture of the team in the huddle it is clear that Sol is holding that group together. That to me was the biggest reason we went on to beat Stoke that day. Because someone got the team to focus when something went wrong.

Sure, the manager is to get them to focus on the game play. But it is up to the players themselves to do something when things aren’t going well. Above all this is the biggest signing we need. It is why I wouldn’t have been upset had Wenger signed Pires as a fill in. It is why I didn’t want Sol to go. It is why I watch Jack Wilshere and see that he can grow in to this role.

As for tomorrow. We are against the wall. Odd to say for a squad that only sits 2 points off first, that still controls its Champion’s League Destiny, is in the thick of it for the Carling Cup and still has the FA Cup to play for. But we are. The sharks are circling. With critics everywhere talking once again about Arsenal’s soft underbelly. Now is a good chance to refocus the team.

Villa is always the start of something special. Look at last year. We had come off a 3 -0 loss to Chelsea and were still being looked at as down and out. Then following an improbable run, we beat Villa 3-0 at the Emirates and were top of the league with a game in hand. Well, we don’t have the fortune of a game in hand. But we do have the ability to go top of the league – even if it is only for a bit. A win cures all.

I am also one of the few peo0ple, who thinks this squad does better when Fabregas isn’t in it. As he will be out with a lingering hamstring injury for up to two weeks. Sure we play good with him and everything happens with him. But we have had sustained runs the last two seasons without him in the squad. Mainly I think because the over reliance of letting him control the game isn’t there. Without a doubt we are better squad when he is healthy and on his game. But we have also proved to be a good squad when he is not avilable.  Arsenal will need to be at that level for at least the next fortnight.

The Captain’s absence should make room for some of the regular subs to get some time. I expect Arsene to slot Nasri in the Fabregas slot which will open up the right side for Walcott to come in.  There was some speculation that Van Persie could get the nod but I still think Wenger will go with Chamakh and Arshavin on the attack. Arshavin though, will likely have a short leash. Admittedly, I am curious to see a front line of Van Persie, Chamakh and Bendtner. But, I think Bendtner will find it hard pressed to get in the squad as a starter. His display in the midweek shows exactly why he is not the striker he thinks he is. There were some beautiful attempts by Walcott that Bendtner either wasn’t in position or didn’t have the speed to get into position. Sorry Nicky B but I think you are about to find yourself on the way out. But still once I would like to see if there is something for a tall attacking trio.

At this time, I am not sure Clichy will be back or not. Supposedly he has recovered from his back injury but I still think Gibbs gets the start. Again, I think Clichy is a good left back prone to the costly mistake. I personally think though that Gibbs is better in all aspects of the game. Especially in his ability to get back on the play even when he has played too forward. Additionally, I think Djourou has had two games in row where he has played solidly. I think Koscielny will devleop into a nice CB one day. Unfortunately that day is not now and his learning curve is one of the points that is costing us points. The good thing is that the bulk of the squad is healthy and there are options. (Only 2 regular first team starters are out – Vermaelen and Fabregas.)

Regardless of the lineup the squad needs to show its fans and itself that it can bounce back and considering that the middle of Villa’s squad right now is all reserve players, it could be a good day to that.

How It Should Play Out:
Right now this is hard for me to gauge. If they can sustain an effort like they did in the first half against Spurs last week, then this should be a cake walk. Arsenal haven’t lost at Villa in 11 trips. Villa aren’t scoring with any sense of regularity. Even Gabby Agbonlahor who was being touted as the next great thing in English football is not productive. Arsenal are the league’s best away team and I think this is because the squad is feeling the pressure at home to succeed this year. Still if we stay with the attack I think we should see a face paced opening leading to a couple of goals.

Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Samir Nasri.  Moves to his natural position on the pitch with the absence of Cesc Fabregas. If he is doing as well on the right wing which is his “unnatural position” then we can only hope that he will be even better in his natural role.

Villa: Robert Pires.  I always pick out the Arsenal legend when we play against them. And Bobby is an out right legend. He was signed by Villa because of their depleted midfield and was a sub in their last match. Given how their midfield was over run in the last match, I would not be surprised if he gets a surprise start.

Probable Starting XI


Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Almunia (elbow) Vermaelen (achilles) Frimpong (knee) Diaby (ankle) Fabregas (thigh) Eboue (ankle)

Villa:  Beye (ankle -D) Hogg (ankle – D) Albrighton (appendicitis) Cuellar (calf), Delph (knee) Heskey (knee) Petrov (knee) Reo-Coker ( knee) Sidwell (Achilles) Weimann (ankle)

Last Meeting (EPL):
Arsenal: 0
Villa: 0

Last 5:
Arsenal: WWLWL 

Villa: DDWDL

Leading Scorers:
Arsenal: Chamakh 9 (6 league) Nasri 8 (5 league)  Walcott 7  (5 league)  Arshavin 5 (2 League) 

Villa: Downing: 5 (4 league); A Young: 4 (2 league); Heskey: 4 (1 league)

Goals For:
Arsenal: 1.6 (away)

Villa 1.4 (home)

Goals Against:
Arsenal: .9 (away)

Villa: .7 (home)

Goal Difference:
Arsenal: 13

Villa: -5

Match Officials:
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant Referees: Ron Garfield Adam Watts
Fourth Official: Phil Dowd

Broadcast Information:
US: ESPN 2/ESPN 3  7:45 AM

UK: Sky Sports 2 1245 BST


GAMEDAY CHAT: It’s Open!!!!!! 

YAMA Prediction:
Arsenal: 2

Villa : 1


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