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Aston Villa-Arsenal: Team news, lineups, predictions

Team news, lineups, and predictions for Arsenal’s clash with Aston Villa.

As Arsenal prepare to for their second match of the season against Aston Villa, they must also be ready to leave their match against Wolverhampton behind them.

These red cards mean both Luiz and Leno will be suspended for the match against Villa and Arteta is left with two decisions. In net, January signing Mat Ryan will likely get the nod. He was hurt the last match, but did practice yesterday in the lead up. The choice at center back is a little more interesting. With Pablo Mari available and ready for selection, Arteta will decide if he goes with Gabriel who has been an absolute star this season, but struggled in his return against Southampton, or Pablo Mari who looked very neat and tidy in his matches before picking up his recent injury.

These two are positions that Arteta will be forced to make changes at, but it’s not the only position that raises questions. Aubameyang is healthy and available, but the left wing has been occupied splendidly in his absence by Nicolas Pepe who seems to be finding form and clicking with Arteta’s desires. Arteta has preached the need for a competitive atmosphere at Arsenal, but that atmosphere brings tough decisions.

A response is needed from an Arsenal side that faced immense adversity midweek, but they will also be looking for a response to the first match against Aston Villa in early November in which the Villans rolled into the Emirates and worked Arsenal for a 3-0 win.

Arsenal had issues with Aston Villa’s dominant presence in their half of the field, they were sloppy on the ball leading to transition opportunities, and those transition opportunities came in the form of Grealish in plenty of space down the lefthand side. Watkins was prolific in front of net, but Arsenal did themselves no favors.

You can read about where Arsenal have ground to make up in today’s prematch blog. It should be a pretty different match from the first time around, but in order to get three points, Arteta is going to have to get his lineup right and there are a few interesting selection points for this one!

Before we look at that, let’s look at team news.

Team News

Bernd Leno
Suspension. Serving one-match suspension following red card against Wolves.

David Luiz
Suspension. Serving one-match suspension following red card against Wolves.

Pablo Mari
Right calf. Pablo has returned to full training and is available for selection.

Mat Ryan
Right hip. Mat has been in full training on Thursday and Friday and is available for selection.

Kieran Tierney
Kieran is continuing to be assessed for discomfort in the right lower leg and is unavailable for Saturday’s match. 

Tierney continues to be out which is a really worrisome sign, compounded by the fact that Arsenal didn’t find themselves a true backup. In the meantime, you would imagine Soares and Bellerin will be the two selected. On a positive note, Ryan returned to practice and should get the nod which will fulfill one of his childhood dreams as a young Arsenal fan!

Finally, it’s great to see Pablo Mari back and available for selection. Wether he gets the nod or Arteta goes with Gabriel in Luiz’s stead is one to keep an eye on.

Lineup

With Ryan healthy, I expect it to be him in net along with Cedric and Bellerin for fullbacks, and Holding as the right-center back. When it came to my left-center back, I do think Arteta will select Gabriel since Mari is just getting back to fitness, but if you had a crystal ball and told me it’s Mari, I would believe you. Mari was excellent before his injury and possess a nice passing range that could come in handy against a Villa side that looks to hold a higher line and compress the game.

In the midfield, I stuck with a Xhaka-Partey double pivot as I believe those two have a massive role to play in today’s game. Both are capable of releasing players into those channels and quickly relieving pressure. If Villa holds a high line, there will be space to exploit. In front of them, I have given Ødegaard his debut. Not through any fault of Smith Rowe’s, Emile has simply played a lot of minutes lately and was kept on against Wolves when Arsenal had ten men and then nine men. That sort of workload takes a toll on an already fatiguing figure. Arsenal got this loan for this specific rotation, so I expect it to be used!

Up top, I stuck with the hot hands — Pepe, Lacazette, and Saka. Pepe has been too good to remove, even with a healthy Aubameyang and Saka has found his home on that right wing. Both are in fine form and it feels like they need to stay involved. When it comes to Lacazette, fitness is definitely a factor. He has played a lot of minutes, however, he came off the field at halftime against Wolves, which may offer him a bit more juice in the tank. What I wouldn’t be surprised to see, if this lineup is selected, is Aubameyang coming off the bench a little earlier than normal to relieve Lacazette.

Prediction

I expect tomorrow to be a much more contested match than the 3-0 drubbing Arsenal took early in the season. Arsenal are in a better place, Villa seem as though they are hitting a plateau in their performance — versus the hot start they had to begin the season — and with Partey, Xhaka, and an attacking midfielder in Smith Rowe or Ødegaard, the Gunners feel better equipped for success.

With that said, the aspects of Aston Villa’s pressing and counter game are points in which Arsenal have struggled. Yet high defensive lines are something Arsenal have beaten with their passing ability when on the ball. Because of this, a lot of the match comes down to how tidy Arsenal can be technically. They struggled against the pressure and committed a lot of sloppy errors in the first game that made life easy on Villa. If they can keep their passing clean and relieve pressure by hitting the ball into space down the wings, thus pegging Villa’s line back a bit, I believe they can get some real traction. If they can’t, then it could be a long day.

Partey has shown himself to be fairly press resistant and Xhaka has the passing range to be dangerous. If Pepe is selected, I would love to see them get him the ball with space ahead of him to run into. I truly believe this is something they can do, and that they have the ability to put Villa on the backfoot early.

Prediction: Arsenal 2-1

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