As is customary during this period of the season, games come thick and fast. Tonight sees us visiting Villa Park and this is the first of 4 games in 13 days. Yet, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. This is as big a test as the Manchester City game. In the last few seasons, a defeat usually means that Arsenal takes the more than a game or two to recover. The result of this season seemed to suggest we can bounce immediately and it will be interesting to see what happens tonight.
As usual, let’s take a look at the opponent, Aston Villa. Under Alex McLeish, Villa has managed are midway in the table garnering 4 wins with 3 of those coming at their home ground. They were absolutely abject in their last match, a home defeat at the hands of Liverpool. The final score was 2-0 to the visitors but it could easily be a tennis score that one. Chances are they will turn into world beaters tonight.
For what he did at Birmingham, McLeish is unable to get the home fans behind him. His preferred style of play is also not one which the fans has taken a liking to. He has also failed so far to get his biggest transfer signing in the summer to get going. That man is Charles N’Zogbia. A player who has constantly played particularly well against us. No surprise if he comes back into form just for this one.
Darren Bent shares the top scorer list for Villa together with Gabriel Agbonlahor with 5 Premier League goals each to their names. The latter is also leading the assist list with the same number. Luckily for us, Bent is not playing and effectively that is one half of their attacking threat gone. Bent will not be the only one absent tonight as Villa also misses the services of Emile Heskey, Shay Given, Stephen Ireland, Chris Herd and James Collins.
There’s so many things that we can’t lose to Villa, at this point in time, we can’t even lose to them in terms of the number of injuries. For tonight, we won’t be able to field Johan Djourou, Bacary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, Andre Santos, Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere. In fact, we’re the leaders in that particular table in the Premier League right now. Noticeably all of our full backs are in that list. Even the centre back whom we have pushed out wide is also injured. It does not make the manager’s job any easier.
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of games coming up and players are not expected to play the full 90 minutes in every one of those 4 matches. There will be rotation and the squad will be mixed to keep them fresh. Suspension to Alex Song will mean one of Emmanuel Frimpong or Francis Coquelin will get another chance to show their mettle in the pivotal defensive midfield role. Ignasi Miquel will probably get a chance at left back unless Wenger thinks that Sebastien Squillaci should play in the middle of defence.
That might not be the line-up which Wenger would go for but just the one which I though it should be. It would be a folly for Wenger to underestimate Villa despite their current predicament and form. For an away game such as this, we need to put out the best defensive personnel that we have. Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen will have to find their resting time in some other games. All 3 can provide the experience and cover for Miquel.
In midfield, Aaron Ramsey looked tired in the last game and I would be tempted to give him a rest. Either Tomas Rosicky or Yossi Benayoun could come in and play. Or if Wenger wanted more protection to his mix and match defence, he could play both Frimpong and Coquelin together and let Mikel Arteta be the creative fulcrum. Up until now, we’ve not seen that part of Arteta yet. The part where he doesn’t have to constantly worry about supporting the defence and just focus on the attacking side.
Up front, I don’t think we can rest Robin Van Persie. Not when the other strikers are struggling for form and playing time. If RvP is to be rested and the duo of Marouane Chamakh and Park Ju Young are to be given playing time, then I’d rather it be against Wolves and QPR than this one. One of Theo Walcott and Gervinho might get a seat on the bench and I suspect it’s the former.
In his stead, I would love to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be given a chance. However, it is unlikely for Wenger to try that. In all likelihood, Andrey Arshavin will be given the opportunity to repay the faith that Wenger has shown him. The little Russian has been nothing short of disappointing this season. By continuing to select him, perhaps Wenger is trying to give him shots of confidence but that method doesn’t seem to be working. Others have fared better than Arshavin and they should really get the chance instead.
With Chelsea playing Tottenham, we can close the gap to them by winning at Villa Park tonight. We did so well at Etihad Stadium and should not let the defeat unduly worry us. Time for the team to provide us with a little festive celebrations.
Up The Arsenal!!!