Crunch Time – Aston Villa Preview

Hope that your festivities were enjoyable and that the fat bloke with the beard delivered your Christmas wishes to you and yours. Arsene’s wishes for everyone to be fit and well have not come to bear but rather like Number two son wanting a PS3 for himself and a Wii for his brother so that they would not argue over who was going to have a go on them, it was overly optimistic.

Recent games have been described as ‘must win’. I am not happy with such descriptions because I believe every game is a ‘must win’ if you are challenging for the title. And yes, Arsenal are still in the mix thanks to the inconsistency of those above and around us. Time though is running out to take advantage of such frivolity on their part; someone, somewhere, sometime very soon is going to start putting a run together and Arsenal need to be in a position to keep pace with that.

This evening’s visit to Villa Park mirrors last season’s meeting. Just over a year ago, Fabregas and van Persie were the key individuals missing. This time it is the Spaniard and Adebayor. Arguably, the same impact from those unfit to play will be felt. The crucial difference this time is the confidence in the two camps. Villa probably believe they can beat anyone at the moment whilst even the Arsenal players probably cannot tell you which version of themselves will turn up; will it be the lacklustre ones or the galvanised version from the last half an hour or so on Sunday?

The truth is that it needs to be the ones on the top of their game. It is a fixture that both sides need to win for differing primary reasons. Whilst Villa want the points to consolidate their top four position to fulfill their realistic ambition of finishing in a Champions League placing, Arsenal want the win for that as their basic requirement but more importantly to keep in touch with the leaders. Let us be honest here. By the time that this match kicks off, Manchester United ought to have taken maximum points from their visit to Stoke whilst West Brom and Bolton will have probably been put to the sword by Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. A win will be required for the Wenger boys to maintain the current status quo. Failure will mean that the squad will be Deeper Down in the mire; any title flame still flickering would be considerably dimmer but still not totally extinguished.

The absences of Cesc and Adebayor will mean a reshuffle. Defensively, I would not expect any changes unless there are late injuries. In midfield though, Cesc’s absence must surely mean a return to the centre for Denilson. He has worked hard on the flanks but he is not a winger nor does he claim to be. Wenger has the option of putting Diaby in there but I am convinced that this will be the case. It seems likely that Eboue will come in on the right. Diaby is lacking confidence at the moment, or seems to me to be, perhaps being the result of not getting regular games. It is a chicken and egg situation because unless he rediscovers his form, he is not going to get his run of games.

Up front, Bendtner will be given the opportunity to show himself. His media comments this week have been, as per usual, translated wildly from the ‘play me or I go‘ to the more likely, ‘I want to play and believe I can do a good job‘. Perhaps more than anyone in recent months, Bendtner personifies a ‘talks a good game’ attitude. He did not deliver when Adebayor was out. Fundamentally, he has to score goals to force his way into Wenger’s thinking on a more regular basis. Pressure will come if Eduardo’s return is successful next month. Wenger will have a good selection of forwards to choose from and Bendtner will not be the automatic replacement.

A different option for this evening would be van Persie leading the line with Diaby playing the supporting role but this role does not really bring the best out of the Dutchman which is perhaps the defining reason not to play him as the lead striker. I suspect the line-up will be:

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy; Eboue, Denilson, Song, Nasri; van Persie; Bendtner

With a bench of:

Fabianski, Diaby, Wilshere, Vela, Hoyte, Toure (if fit), Randall

The gameplan Villa employ will no doubt be not dissimilar to the one that they utilised at The Emirates; speedy attacks and swamping midfield. It is up to the Arsenal players to show that fixture was a lowpoint and to use a cliche, once bitten twice shy. The only concern that I have about countering such tactics is the ball over the top of the defence which caught us out for the second goal on that occasion and also Liverpool’s equaliser last Sunday. There cannot be a repeat. Three points are vital whatever the outcome of the other games to stay in touch.

Enjoy the match wherever you watch it. ’til Tomorrow.

819 thoughts on “Crunch Time – Aston Villa Preview

  1. Marc says:

    FunGunner – Fair point. No one ever said that Petit was a defensive midfielder and Viera was attacking or verse versa. A good balance is what is needed. This is what is such a shame about losing Flamini.

  2. Marc says:

    FunGunner – I don’t take my job seriously. I’m only in charge of the Nuclear football for the US Govement. It’s really boring – nothing ever happens.

  3. FunGunner says:

    “I don’t take my job seriously. I’m only in charge of the Nuclear football for the US Govement. It’s really boring – nothing ever happens.”

    Long may the uneventfulness continue

    @alanG and marc
    – marc talked about a big MONEY signing, not a big signing. There is a difference. We need a big signing, who may or may not involve big money.

    OK. I’m knackered. Nice chatting to you both. Good night!

  4. Joe says:

    Liam Brady was a pundit for RTE on the Euros.
    He said that Arshavin was the best player he had seen in a very long long time.
    Over the summer I would have bet my house on Wenger signing him. He is everything Wenger looks for in a player – highly technical, left leg, right leg, strong on the ball, scores, fast off the mark. But he was so good at the Euros his demands and the clubs price put off so many clubs. Of course he is at his peak and even now at 18m it doesn’t represent the safest financial investment but as he gets older he could also play as a link player as he gets older in the same role bergkamp used to play. And I genuinely believe he is that good. With Cesc gone for 4 months we need a creative midfielder and IMO I think this guy one of the best players in the world at the moment. The main reason I think this is such a likely transfer apart from the fit – is that Arsenal are probably one of the few clubs with hard cash in the bank – which given the current credit crisis puts us in a very strong position. Arshavin and a DM would put the team in a different place.

  5. Marc says:

    Joe – I don’t know enough about Arshavin to comment on whether if he is the player we need, but I am 100% behind you regarding resources. We have income per match that exceeds anyone in the world bar ManU, who have more debt than us. They have also increased ticket prices by over 50% over the last few years and are being inveistagated by the office of fair trading at the behest of ManU supporters over unreasonable practices.

  6. arsenalvision says:

    Here is one for the negative supporter


    (put the link together first)

  7. dukeGoonem says:

    oh shit…we got no money now!!!! better get down the club and give them some more of mine then!

  8. Big Al says:

    Surely the best thing to do is to keep cool and see what happens… because Arsenal are going to be as inscrutable as ever this January.

    I’m also glad PHW has finally stopped banging on about how much money we have. It can’t do us many favours when negotiating salaries, fees etc.

    Here’s to a serene transfer window!

  9. Passenal says:

    Interesting comment on transfers from Arsene on

    “We have not made any enquiry about Shay Given,” said the Frenchman. “I have a high regard for him as a player but we do not look for a goalkeeper.

    “Mikel Arteta is a very good player but we have not made any enquiry about him at all,” insisted Wenger.

    “There is no progress [on Arshavin]. If there is any progress made you will be informed, I promise you. If we buy a player you will be informed.”

  10. arsenalvision says:

    Great minds and all that.

    Wenger sounds very open about Arshavin to have admitted that.

    Perhaps it is closer than we think.

  11. Alex Ice Cream says:

    I think that our problems are deeper than simply buying some players be they unknowns or big names(!)

    There is a horrible lack of cohesion in this team caused in part by injury but mainly by the fact that our current team have hardly played together. Even when they have played together they do not seem familiar with each other’s games.

    At the back we had Toure/Gallas for a while then Phil, Song, Silvestre and now Djourou playing with Gallas. This also destabilises the goalkeeper.

    The currently available midfield is totally different from the beginning of the year through departures and injury. Cesc has a variety of unconvincing partners and the wingers are all injured. Sagna played behind Eboue or Hleb throughout last season this season it is Walcott or Denilson. Clichy used to play behind Rosicky, Hleb or Diaby(!) wheras now its Nasri and Diaby on occasions. I believe this has affected their games.

    This midfield is not used to the defence, attack or each other. RvP and Ade have not played together on a huge number of occasions and they do not combine well at all with each other or the midfield.

    Its not just a problem of new players/experience it a problem of team balance and familiarity. The great Wenger teams had a core of players who had played together for years which we no longer have. Now we have a number of new, inexperienced players who have not played much together.

    The more established players have not helped the manager either by leaving, being injured or below par which has intensified the pressure on players who are not quite ready to handle it.

    I can only hope that we do buy some players and more importantly that we can build some partnerships and have some consistency in the team. Our injuries have had a huge bearing but lets hope that we get some players back soon.

  12. Passenal says:

    I’m surprised that he used those words in his comment AV – he hasn’t actually denied it so if negotiations are ongoing it could explain the ‘not spending lots of money in these difficult times’ comments from both PHW and Arsene.

    It’s a shame about Denilson Poliziano, but I suppose a little breather will do him good as he has been an ever-present all season. Perhaps we’ll see a Diaby/Ramsey pairing in the centre of midfield. That will be interesting.

  13. Poliziano says:

    Yes, according to the BBC Ramsey will play, as will Fabianski. I expect Denilson would benefit from a break, but it would be better if he could have a break without having an injury as well. It will be interesting to see who else plays. Wenger said after the Carling Cup exit (I think), that he would select more or less a first choice team for the F.A. Cup. Might Vela get a game?

  14. Passenal says:

    Vela is a first team player and he did well when he came on against Portsmouth so he could well be in with a chance Poliziano.

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