I’m actually just about burnt out on all the talk about this run of four games that Arsenal head into today. I just want the run to start because it will be the moment of truth for this Arsenal side, this season. Knocked out of the FA Cup by Stoke and the League Cup by Manchester City, we still have hopes for the Premier League and the Champions League. Do we have what it takes to win? We find out partially today.
It’s a good way to start, too. Villa away that is. In open play, Villa are a quality team who will try to get in behind Arsenal’s back line with probing runs down the wings and powerful center forwards winning headers. Our full backs will need to stay close to the likes of Milner and Young while Vermaelen will need to be ready for a bit of heading practice in the center and Gallas for some sprints against Agbonlahor.
On set pieces, Arsenal will need to be commanding in the box, Villa might be missing Carew (a big blow in this game) but Heskey will be a huge bother in there. Against Stoke, Arsenal looked to have ditched their zonal defense for a man-marking defense on set pieces. Other than the first goal which I put down to lack of focus, the Arsenal man-marking was very useful. Personally, I’d like to see more of it, it instills defensive responsibility in all the players.
All over the pitch expect to see Villa pressuring the Arsenal and trying to disrupt our flowing football. All teams do it, but what remains to be seen is how well Villa can. In the first half of the game at Emirates, they did a great job of pressuring us, but that’s because we were without Cesc. When he came on, the team was injected with quality and energy and the second half was dominated by us. I expect Cesc will be up for this game, he’ll see it as a real chance to put his mark on the League.
In the Arsenal attack, it’s been all hands on the pump as it were with goals coming in from all positions on the field. The match against Bolton saw Vermaelen get his first since October 4th and Arshavin get his first since December 13th Arsenal will need more of that given the absence of a commanding center forward.
Speaking of which, Bendtner is healthy and has been practicing with the team. Irregardless the scoreline I fully expect to see the big Dane brought on today. I doubt he’ll start but with Wenger you never know. Wouldn’t it be just like Wenger to start Bendtner but put him wide right and keep Arshavin as the lone figure up front?
It’s a good opportunity to score some goals as well. Villa’s defense has been a bit shaky lately, letting in 4 against Blackburn in the League cup and 2 against Brighton in the FA Cup. Moreover, Villa hasn’t managed a League win since Arsenal beat them 3-0 at the Emirates a few weeks back. Some will look to make excuses, “oh those are cup games” or “oh the weather, blah blah” but the point remains that Villa have suffered a blip lately and will be looking to this game to get their Champions League challenge back on track.
It won’t be a walk in Villa Park by any stretch, but I suspect that there’s points here for the taking.
Today’s referee is Lee Probert and the only thing I can say about him is that I searched the site and I haven’t ever said anything about him before. That’s the mark of a good ref in my book!
The match is being tape delayed here in the States by Setanta (a portend of things to come) and is not being shown until 2pm (PST). That means I’ll be on internet blackout from 11:30 on so don’t look for me on here until tomorrow by which time, Arsenal will be 3 points up and have signed Chris Smalling, right?
Up the Arse!