A good week has the potential to get even better when Arsenal face Aston Villa on Sunday.
Last Saturday, Arsenal ended a run of three winless Premier League matches with the 3-1 defeat of Sunderland. A trip to Greece was a huge success when, on Wednesday, Arsène Wenger’s men were inspired by an Olivier Giroud hat-trick and won 3-0 against Olympiacos to head into the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Now there is hardly a better place than Villa Park for Arsenal to continue a good week. The Villains haven’t won in 14 games, the longest run without a league win in their history. Arsenal haven’t lost away at Villa in their last 16 Premier League visits. What could possibly go wrong?
Facing the media on Friday morning, Arsène Wenger said the title race will really start to take shape now we’re entering the halfway stage of the season.
Arsenal are second heading into the weekend, a point clear of both Manchester clubs and a point behind Leicester City.
“I think you always see the real trend after Christmas,” said the boss. “Of course every year you have a surprising team who is in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester.
“The question is always can they maintain their run.”
The challenge for Arsenal is to focus on themselves and maintain their own run.
The goals of Olivier Giroud would help, as long as they keep coming, and Wenger had praise for the striker.
“He has gone through this calendar year with ups and downs but overall it is typical Olivier Giroud.
“That means when it doesn’t work, he puts effort in.
“He’s not only a goalscorer, he’s a guy who puts work in for the team. I think he’s among the best strikers in Europe,” Wenger added.
The news is that, well, there isn’t any news. There are no returns and no new injuries.
Starting Theo Walcott twice in a matter of days may be a risk, so Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could take his place. Expect pretty much the same team from the midweek heroics.
Possible XI: Čech; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Campbell; Giroud.
A former pupil of Wenger’s will face the Arsenal manager in the dugout for the first time. New Aston Villa manager Remi Garde hasn’t had too much of an influence in the Midlands yet, but the Arsenal boss had plenty to say about him on Friday.
“He has the competence and intelligence. He has a good team around him, he is at a big club, so I let him work,” the Arsenal manager told the press.
Jordan Amavi is out for the season and captain Micah Richards could miss out.
We can expect the home side to defend deep before hoping to use the pace of Jordan Ayew and Scott Sinclair on the break. Idrissa Gueye and Carlos Sanchez will attempt to form a solid midfield to break up play, leaving more of the passing to Jordan Veretout.
Possible XI: Guzan; Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Bacuna; Gueye, Sanchez, Veretout; Gil, Ayew, Sinclair.
As I’ve already said, Aston Villa are on a horrible run both in general and against Arsenal. They’ve actually won more Premier League points against the Gunners away from home than at home.
Nonetheless, they kept Manchester City at bay for a 0-0 draw in Remi Garde’s first game and their failure to win can’t go on forever, even if it means they eventually end their time without a win with a complete fluke.
Hopefully that fluke is avoided on Sunday, and Arsenal take the victorious and buoyant mood from the win at Olympiacos and harness it to brush Villa aside this weekend.