Arsenal are scheduled to welcome Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon in a fixture that neither of the two sides can afford to lose.
The pain of the Gunners’ humiliating FA Cup exit was still fresh when they were torn apart 3-1 on their own turf by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Now that their European dream is all but over too, coach Arsene Wenger’s men know that the only way they are going to qualifying for the next season’s Champions League competition is the domestic league table.
Arsenal, who are 9/25 with Ladbrokes to defeat Aston Villa, currently trail the fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur by four points and any more immediate setbacks in the PL could open up a gap that might be very difficult to close down with just 12 league games remaining in the season.
On the other hand, their opponents Aston Villa too are in desperate need of some positive results since only a single point separates them from the dreaded relegation zone. They were second-bottom on the league table until the last round when their 2-1 victory over West Ham United elevated them to the 17th position.
What Is Being Said In the Press?
Theo Walcott recently tried to lift his teammates’ morale and urged them to forget their horror Champions League showing for the sake of salvaging their Premier League campaign.
The England international said: “We need to react in a positive way straight away. We can’t be down in the dumps in training. Everybody needs to be alive and alert, recover well. We’ve got a good run in the Premier League – we can’t forget that. We’ve had some good points, very important points, so we’ve just got to start believing again. I think that’s one of the main things – believe in how good we are, because we didn’t show it against Bayern.”
Similarly, Villa legend and former Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch advised the Midlands outfit’s youngsters to man up if they want to remain a part of the country’s top division.
“My advice to those young players who may be feeling the pressure would be ‘stand up tall and face it’. They should embrace the challenge. It’s no more than an opportunity for them to play first-team football at a very high level. And if they want to remain at that standard then they need to take that opportunity and not fear it,” he said.
Arsenal Team News
Right-back Bacary Sagna has picked up a knee injury and will miss tomorrow’s game. He joins his fellow full-back Kieran Gibbs on the sidelines. The Frenchman’s loss will be evened out by the availability of Nacho Monreal, who missed Wednesday’s loss to Bayern Munich due to being cup-tied. The former Malaga man’s return to the starting line-up is welcome news for the Gunners as their makeshift left-back Thomas Vermaelen struggled immensely against the Bavarians in midweek.
Aston Villa Team News
There are several positive news on the injury front for Aston Villa this weekend. Their French winger Charles N’Zogbia had picked up a thigh injury in his team’s 2-1 defeat of West Ham United in Round 26 but he has managed to recover from it and is expected to start tomorrow. Moreover, forward Gabriel Agbonlahor and midfielder Karim El Ahmadi have also gotten over their respective illness and are in line for a comeback. However, there is no such luck for Chris Herd, Richard Dunn and Marc Albrighton, all three of whom are likely to miss out.
Possible Starting Line-Ups
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Monreal, Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Bennett, Delph, Westwood, Ireland, Weimann, Agbonlahor,
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four meetings with Aston Villa and have won three of those fixtures with one ending in a draw. But the Villans were the better of the two sides in this match-up’s reverse fixture, which took place at Villa Park last November and ended in a 0-0 draw. Over the years, the Gunners have found it difficult to deal with big skilful centre forwards and so it was no surprise when Christian Benteke made a nuisance of himself in the Londoners’ backline in that game.
While the Belgian, who has been linked with a summer move to Emirates Stadium, is certainly talented, he has failed to impose himself against big teams away from home. Other than him, coach Paul Lambert doesn’t have any major offensive weapons at his disposal and so if the Villa target man is kept quiet then it should be a pretty easy outing for the host.
Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa