Gunner Thoughts

Preview: Arsenal vs. Villa

Arsenal get ready to take on Aston Villa who are fighting to stay up next year with two games to play.

Coming off the back of two wins in games that Arsenal won with little possession or opportunity to create, the Gunners will look to get back to their possessive play against an opponent that many supporters will see as the type of side Arsenal should have no problem dispatching. Aston Villa has had one of those years where they football they attempt to play may be decent, but the results that follow have been far from.

“In my opinion, they have been very unlucky in a lot of games. It’s a team that wants to play football, that makes it really difficult for their opponent when they have the ball,” says Arteta, but with only 8 wins, 7 draws, and 21 losses, Villa find themselves in dire need of points. There are only a few outcomes with their remaining two Premier League matches that could see them escape relegation and they involve getting 3-6 points in the final two games and getting help in the form of Watford losses.

Arsenal will look to spoil the chance by getting all three points away at Villa Park and give their own chances at the Europa League a small semblance of life. Currently in 10th place on 53 points, a win would see Arsenal make the leap to 8th and bring their European qualification chance, through the league, down to the final day.

While that route would take quite a bit of fortune, it should be noted that simply finishing in a higher position within the league is worth an extra few million pounds – something Arsenal can hardly turn their nose up at. There is little doubt, should the league prove to be unfruitful, all eyes will turn to the important FA Cup final, but Mikel Arteta doesn’t appear to be a manager that thinks that way. In his efforts to rebuild the Arsenal culture in his vision, he feels they must be competing in every game with the full intent to get results.

“It does matter to us a lot because I want to win ball games like they [Aston Villa] do, and I want to play football with that urgency and aggression in our game.”

Arteta’s look ahead

In Arteta’s press conference on Monday, he spoke about the caution that Arsenal have to have when it comes to how they view their opposition.

“We really need to be careful that they are alive and you can see that in the last few games that I’ve watched of them. We better be ready.”

There is plenty of reason for the Gunners to come ready for a 90 minute battle at Villa Park including precedent. Granted it was back in September under very different terms, Arsenal’s first time out against Villa went less than flawless. A 20th minute goal from Villa’s McGinn, followed by a 41st minute red card for Ainsley Maitland-Niles made for a bumpy second half.

Just when Arsenal thought they found a lifeline by scoring a goal of a Nicolas Pepe penalty kick, Villa struck back 1 minute later to regain the lead. It was only thanks to some late game drama at The Emirates that Arsenal managed to score two goals including a fantastic winner from an Aubameyang free kick in the 84th minute. It is exactly the type of game that has led to Arteta’s assessment of Villa’s luck and part of the reason he may warn his side to temper their confidence.

On top of that, Aston Villa will be playing with a chip on their shoulder knowing they are down to their final days, unless they can make something happen. “They have a massive urgency because they probably have to win both games to have a chance to survive.” A similar situation as Arsenal needing two wins to have any chance at the top 7.

“When you are in that situation you are fighting for your life, so they are going to give absolutely everything. We have to be in the same mood. We still have to win both games and wait to have a chance to qualify for Europe and that’s the mood that I want from everybody involved.”

While Arteta may be regretting the failed performance against 15th place Brighton in Arsenal’s second match of the return, or be waking up at night at the missed opportunity against north London rival Tottenham with the amount of possession they had, he admits given the circumstances coming into the week, this is a position they will be satisfied with.

“I wanted to get to this point with options and clearly, we have options. It’s not in our hands at the moment and we knew that was going to be difficult, but we need to give it a go and try to win both games and then wait and see what happens. If we do that, I think we will have a good chance.”

Arsenal’s fate only lies within their control to a certain extent as they will need help from either Crystal Palace beating Tottenham or Chelsea beating Wolverhampton on the final day. The first step is to take care of what they can control. To do that, they will need all 6 of their remaining points.

Arsenal Team News

While there is little news and updates on the long term injuries to Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, and Gabrielle Martinelli, there is some updates on the rest of the squad. The biggest hit will be the announcement that Shkodran Mustafi is being assessed for some hamstring soreness following the FA Cup win over Manchester City.

Shkodran Mustafi
Right hamstring sustained during Emirates FA Cup semi-final on Saturday. Currently being assessed to determine recovery timescale, but will not be available for Aston Villa (a) on Tuesday.

Bernd Leno
Right knee. Sustained moderate ligament sprain during Brighton & Hove Albion (a) on June 20. Now participating in outside running and ball drills.

Eddie Nketiah
Available for selection after serving three-match suspension following red card against Leicester City (h).

Cedric Soares
Available for selection after being cup tied for our FA Cup semi-final (Cedric had featured for Southampton in this season’s FA Cup competition).

In positive news, Arteta will have Eddie Nketiah back for selection after his three game ban is complete and Cedric Soares will be available after being cup tied for the FA Cup. Both of these players make my predicted squad, which we will talk about a little later on.

As far as replacing Mustafi, Arsenal fans can take some degree of confidence from the fact that Rob Holding did a fantastic job in his outing against Liverpool on Wednesday of last week.

You can read all the team news from Arsenal here.

Gunner Thoughts on Arsenal

After playing two straight, rigidly defensive games within a 3-4-3 formation that often took the shape of a 5-2-3 without possession, Gunners supporters can expect that Arteta will look to be a bit more expansive in their play as they try to dominate possession and manufacture chances against this porous Villa side that has conceded 66 goals on the season — only better than mathematically relegated Norwich.

What may be interesting to see is what kind of lineup Arteta selects and the formation he pairs with it in an attempt to give some level of rest to players that put in hard shifts against Liverpool and City. Certainly, Arteta will still put out a strong side he believes can win, but it would be fair to imagine that he will look to rotate in fresh legs and maximize his usage of the 5-subs rule.

A few names that top my list of people to feature after a break include Eddie Nketiah after his suspension, Bukayo Saka after he was rested against City, Reiss Nelson after his good performance and goal against Liverpool, Cedric Soares after being cup tied and getting a break, Kolasinac after he was replaced, likely for his involvement and creation of Spurs first goal, and Rob Holding, my obvious candidate to replace Mustafi.

If this is the case, the side could look very different from the weekend:

Emi Martinez in net, Rob Holding at right center back, Luiz at center back, Kolasinac at left center back, Soares as a right wingback, Saka as a left wingback. Torreira in the center to give Xhaka a break alongside Ceballos. Up top, Aubameyang on the left wing, at least to start, with Nketiah down the middle, and Reiss Nelson on the right wing.

Aubameyang, Nketiah, Nelson
Saka, Torreira, Ceballos, Soares
Kolasinac, Luiz, Holding

This would put Arsenal back in their 3-4-3 formation and exclude the likelihood of a Mesut Ozil appearance. By all accounts, it appears that despite Ozil’s presence in training, Arteta is not confident in how he fits within this shape and the demands on each player. Playing Ozil would likely demand an alteration to the shape entirely. That doesn’t mean Ozil won’t be selected to the side for Arteta to use as a sub, but makes it feel unlikely that he will be a starter if this shape is deployed.

The side I have laid out is a very heavily rotated one, and one that many may consider a weak Premier League lineup. To be fair, Arsenal are in 10th place and the lack of depth certainly is an aspect that needs addressing during the transfer window. However, when a team lacks depth, but still needs to keep legs fresh, you end up with some slightly weaker lineups.

There are plenty of reasons to believe Arteta may opt for a stronger side against Villa and a more rotated one at the weekend, but coming up such a tough week and another grueling match Saturday evening, I imagine this will be the match that sees the rotation.

Arsenal need all the points. Only a win will do if they want to keep their hopes alive through the league, but it also stands as an opportunity to show how flexible they can be within a 3-4-3 formation. We saw them dominate Norwich and possess well against Tottenham, while they opted to rigidly defend against Wolverhampton, Liverpool, and Manchester City. Coming out and showing everyone they can play a complete and balanced game against Aston Villa would be a great sign of the work they and Arteta are doing.

Prediction: 2-0 Arsenal.

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