The moment all Premier League fans have been waiting for finally arrives on Saturday Aug. 17 when the league kicks off. Arsenal’s first match of the season takes place at the Emirates as they host Aston Villa in their curtain raiser. Arsenal will see a new-look Villa side this season as the Birmingham-based club has made half a dozen signings since coming close to relegation last campaign. However, as of now, the Gunners will look much the same as they did in 2012/13 with the exception of newcomer Yaya Sanogo, a young French forward.
While Villa boss Paul Lambert managed to sign six new players, his greatest accomplishment may have been talking Belgian striker Christian Benteke to stay at Villa Park after he handed in a transfer request. Benteke was the club’s top scorer last season and one of the best strikers in the league. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger saw numerous players leave during the summer, but none of them were considered to be regular starters.
The Gunners’ hope to start the new season in the same fashion they finished the last one as they had a 10-match undefeated streak near the end of the term. Hanging on to the team’s top players thus transfer window may be viewed as some type of accomplishment since they’ve lost some top performers over the past few years such as Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and of course Golden Boot winner Robin van Persie.
All the top guns are back with the squad and they all seem to be healthy at the moment. Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott have all had fine pre-seasons with Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starring for England in their 3-2 win over Scotland at Wembley on Wednesday.
So what we basically have here is the same squad which managed to finish fourth in the league last season, 16 points behind champions Man United. To improve on last year’s position Arsenal’s going to have to beat teams like Aston Villa, especially at home. However, there are some injury concerns going into the match as Walcott suffered a mild knee sprain on Wednesday and Mikel Arteta has a strained thigh which could keep him out of the season opener.
Also, it looks like Bacary Sagna, Nacho Monreal, Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen could miss the match as well as a few more due to a variety of injuries. Aaron Ramsey may also have to be added to this list as he missed Wales’ friendly in Wednesday with an ankle problem. The Gunners should be able to get by without them against Villa, but it does make fans wonder why Wenger allowed so many players to leave the club during the summer and sent others out on loan. They could be useful squad members when the team suffers a rash of injuries.
While the Gunners defending looks good on paper as being the second-best in the league last season, it’s still a bit of a weak spot. The back four are going to have their hands full with Benteke and he should get some decent support from Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor. Villa has a decent combination of power and pace up front and they head into the match a confident bunch after a 3-2 win over Spanish side Malaga last weekend. In fact they won four and lost one in their last five preseason matches with Arsenal having three wins, a loss and a draw in theirs.
When these two clubs met last season they drew 0-0 at Villa Park in November and the Gunners pulled out a late 2-1 win at home in February. Overall, these two sides have met a total of 172 times with Arsenal winning 70 of them, losing 61 and playing to 41 draws. They’ve outscored Villa 268 to 247 over those matches.
The Gunners lineup for this match will likely be Wojciech Szczesny in goal with Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Kieran Gibbs as the back four. Ramsey, Wilshere and Santi Cazorla should start in the midfield with Lukas Podolski, Giroud and Walcott up front in a 4-3-3 formation.
Arsenal overcame Tottenham last season to take the fourth and final Champions League spot with a lot of hard work towards the end of the schedule. They need to begin the new campaign with the same drive and determination and make sure they get off to a good start. The best way to do this is to show no mercy against Villa and make sure all three points are theirs after 90 minutes.