I was in a good mood at the start of the weekend. I still kinda am, actually, but there’s a few things that have made me ever-so-slightly ‘harrumph’ in the last 24 hours, if I’m honest.
The first was upon listening to the always excellent Arsecast, in which I heard that Antony Taylor will be taking charge of our game today against Villa, the consecutive game this season in which he’s taken charge. Quite why the Premier League has seen fit to punish us with, quite frankly the worst referee in the league by a country mile, is beyond me. But the fact that he made contentious decision after decision last season must surely have led to somebody at Premier League HQ making a note and saying “guys, let’s not pair him up with these two teams again, at least not for next season to let the dust settle.
But no, somebody has a sense of humour in Scudamore’s administration, so let’s expect a few absolute shockers for decisions this lunchtime, eh?
Anyway, that Premier League faux pa aside, there are more than a few warning signs for this Arsenal side entertaining the Villains today at The Emirates. For one thing, we face a Villa side who have had a recent history of upsetting us on our home soil. Ignore the details of how we’ve dominated teams, Villa have rarely come to The Emirates with fear, so I’m not expecting anything different this afternoon. Tough to break down and built upon a foundation of deep-lying defenders with little desire to press on, I’m not expecting an open game and if the game has an initial 20 minutes with no scorers, expect ourselves to have a frustrating afternoon.
Villa’s poor league position belies their defensive solidity. Their issue has been scoring goals all season. But teams always have the opportunity with scabby set pieces, so it will come as no surprise tomorrow if Villa are one up after rid only attack on goal in the first half. Less so if Antony Taylor has given a penalty when it clearly isn’t one…we have been warned…
In terms of our team today, the absence of Alexis will be a loss, but you’d hope that the replacements can more than make up for his effervescence on the pitch. I do hope that Rosicky is given a chance. After his performance against Brighton and his recent displays, I feel like he’s earned it, but he’s not as big a price tag as Özil. That shouldn’t make a difference but we all know it might. Rosicky – to my mind – is better on the left than Özil and it should be a straight shoot-out between Cazorla and Özil for the number ten role and right now, if we’re all honest, Santi wins it hands down right now.
The back four should be fairly standard and I’d be surprised if the same back four that played against Moneychester City weren’t preferred against Villa, so Bellerin should see his right back spot returned to him. It should also mean a return for Monreal and I think that’s the right thing to do. Playing players on form is how football should work, so I’m expecting to see our left-back Spaniard get another game under his belt.
As for Villa, I think we’ll see the usual brute force of Benteke being a handful, but I don’t expect us to be under the kosh, so it will be counter attacking football that will be the soups de jour for Paul Lambert’s men. Carlos Gil looks like he could be a bit of a threat after his wonder-strike against Bournemouth, but if we can maintain our high-tempo start to games like we have over the last few weeks, it should peg back some of their creative players.
I’d love to see a walk in the park against a Villa team who have struggle for goals all season, but this is Arsenal and we all know it’s never that easy, so I’m thinking this might be closer than the pundits would have us believe. For once, I hope their all right and we see a comfortable afternoon of football. We need to carry on the momentum with all of the other teams around us winning yesterday, so three points has to be the order of the day, however hard we are made to work for them.
Come on you reds!