Aston Villa have both comprehensively beaten Chelsea and been well beaten by Manchester United. In both of these they burst out of the blocks and took an early lead. In one they held off some pressure from their opposition and in the other they were pegged back soon after and eventually punished heavily. Against Chelsea they were able to soak up the pressure and hit them on the counter late on to seal the points. This was when Chelsea were not at their attacking best. Against United they came up against a team in full attacking flow and Villa simply could not cope with the speed of the counter attack.
This gives me some hope as in games this season – Sevilla apart – we have been able to break teams down and score goals. Manchester United showed this is possible against Villa and hopefully we can do the same. Going a goal down will not be the end of the world but if we get the first goal then it will be a real bonus. If we can hit them on the counter early on then we might be in luck. As they are the home team and playing well, they will fancy their chances. They will no doubt come at us in the opening stages and here we must be patient, solid and use the speed we have to break quickly up field.
Villa’s main threat is definitely their pace. They will either line up in a 4-3-3 with Young and Agbonlahor playing off Carew. Should this happen the two pacey englishmen will play wide and attack the full backs. They will try and get past these players and supply Carew with chances. O’Neill may decide to go with a more conventional 4-4-2 with Young on the right, Petrov on the left with Barry and Reo-Coker in the centre of midfield. He will then have Agbonlahor playing off Carew and using his pace to great effect. If Arsenal can stem the supply to Young and Agbonlahor, they will have gone some way to halting Villa. This in turn will hopefully isolate Carew.
So how do Arsenal line-up to deal with this? Assuming Clichy is not fit to play tomorrow I would go for solidity at the back. Traore had major problems against Navas and I would move Sagna across to left full-back. He can deal with Young as well as anyone in the squad while providing pace on the counter. On the other side Diarra should fill in. He is strong in the tackle and can prevent any attacks from that side. After his shocker on Wednesday Senderos must not be on the pitch. I have heard people suggesting Gallas go to the left with Phil filling in. With the pace of Agbonlahor we need both Toure and Gallas playing in the centre to deal with it. Carew may win most aerial balls but if we isolate Agbonlahor and Young then he should not get too much of the ball.
In midfield Flamini is back and this is fantastic news. He has been the reason our midfield has improved this season by adding a fighting aspect to our game. He harrasses players and does not give them time to settle. Gilberto was very poor in Spain and is clearly well off the pace. Denilson has filled in for Cesc at times this season but if I was Wenger I would try something new this time around. Although he has great vision and passing I don’t think he has the cutting edge needed for this type of fixture. I feel we need someone who will move the ball quickly, get things going while taking opportunities to shoot when they arise. Therefore I would play Tomas Rosicky alongside Flamini.
Whoever plays on the wings must help the full backs. Eboue should be given one more chance on the right of midfield if Hleb is not fit. He can deliver a good cross which could be a good option for tomorrow. On the other flank I would give Walcott a game. He was brilliant for England recently and his pace will trouble Villa as they have been playing with natural centre backs as full backs. Should Hleb make it I would play him on the left and Theo on the right instead of Eboue. Eboue needs something to show him he must pull his socks up after his antics in recent games; being benched might do this. Wenger could go with 4-5-1 and put Denilson in there with Rosicky and Flamini but I think we should go with two up top like Man Utd did. This means Adebayor will not get isolated and we have more options on the counter.
Nicklas Bendtner played very well in midweek and deserves another game but can he play with Adebayor? For me he can but I think Wenger will always go for one or the other, not the both of them together. After his goal I would consider giving Eduardo another game but this time as a striker. He is NOT a winger despite showing some neat touches out wide. His main position is as a striker and his lack of defensive instincts would worry me. He knows where the goal is and with chances likely to be scarce, he is the man to take them. HE is wasted on the wing.
My team would therefore be:
The defeat to Sevilla may have come at a good time. With so many first teamers rested the defeat will not have come as such a blow as one in the League. The pressure of such a long unbeaten run is gone and we are starting a new slate. Most players have not actually lost but as part of he squad will want to put it right. As Toure has said this week – if we want to win then we must move on to the next game and get back on track. This game will be a tricky one, as Chelsea found out, but if we get our tactics right and concentrate for 90 minutes we can come away with something.