Villa at home at 4.30pm this Sunday afternoon represents an opportunity for Unai Emery and his players to show that we’re back on the ‘winning wagon’. We won in midweek against Frankfurt but building momentum needs a series of wins together and with United away coming up next weekend we really can’t afford to be fluffing our lines again today against the newly promoted Villans.
I remember seeing Gabby Agbonlahor bag a couple of goals in a 3-1 defeat a few years back. I remember that game we lost at home to Villa when Antony Taylor basically did all he could to give them the win. I know that we haven’t exactly played brilliantly if late and have been conceding too many goals and too many chances. So today what I want to see is an Arsenal side ready to put The Tottenham and Watford draws behind them. I want to see an Arsenal side react in the same way that Man City did yesterday at home to Watford.
I want us to be MASSIVELY up for this.
We’ve got the attacking players to cause Villa trouble. Auba is on fire at the moment, Pepe has looked good and just needs a goal for it to feel like he’s up and running, plus we had some great performances from some of the youngsters in midweek. So we have the talent, the question is whether those players have the application, as well as whether Unai Emery has the right tactical set up.
Let’s have Xhaka and Torreira start in the base of our midfield today, for example, because I think they complement each other well. Torreira is the legs, the terrier, the engine. Xhaka is the distributor, the vision, the eyes. Playing both of them in the middle with Ceballos in front of them feels like the best option for me. It feels like the most natural midfield but for some reason Emery feels reluctant to do that, preferring Guendouzi instead. The Frenchman has played well, of course, but he needs somebody like Torreira alongside him too but for some reason Unai has been steadfast in his inclusion of both Xhaka and Guendouzi. Neither work when asked to do the defensive side of the game in my opinion.
In front of them the question is probably who plays wide left. You’d expect Auba and Pepe to start but that left side question is one that needs an answer. Saka played very well on Thursday but is two games in four days a bit much for the young lad? I’m not so much talking about fitness, as he’ll have recovered quickly enough given he’s only 18, but more about the mental side and also the weight of expectation. Hopefully he can handle it but I just have a feeling that Reiss Nelson will be given another chance today to show his stuff.
The other option is Mesut Özil but we need width. Özil is a natural floater and whilst I believe a game like today he would do brilliantly just behind Auba in the 10 with two wide players either side in a 4-2-3-1 formation, I suspect Emery will bench him and play Nelson on the left and Ceballos in a midfield three.
If that happens then we need to see another performance like the Burnley one for Ceballos. We need to have him dictating the game and being a link between midfield and defence, but also midfield and attack, always showing for the ball and always available in space.
In the back four it’ll be Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac, Luiz and probably Sokratis, but given the Greek’s mistakes in the last couple of games I’d like to see Chambers, even Mustafi, start today. Mustafi is a better passer of the ball than Sokratis and so for me it feels a more obvious choice, although given that Emery said he was ‘resting’ Sokratis I suspect we will see him from the start today. At some stage it would be good to see Holding though.
It was also be good to see a fast start. Let’s get at Villa early. Let’s show some impetus from the first whistle. Last season we were ‘Second Half FC’ but none of us want to sit through another first half where we look disjointed and without a structure or style. Press high, win the ball back higher up the pitch, put the Villa defenders under pressure and force mistakes from the opponents, rather than in our our penalty box. And please, no more penalties Arsenal, eh?
Aston Villa have played mainly with a 4-3-3 in their games this season, with a big target man Wesley being flanked by wide players like Trezeguet and Jota. They’ve also fielded more of a 4-5-1 to flood the midfield and with a defensive midfielder in front of the back four against the Tiny Totts. That’s what I’d expect today and I suspect if they’ve got any kind of scouting team they’ll be telling them to press us high when we have the ball in our half, but when it is in their half they’ll stay compact with wide players ready to exploit the acres of space we leave our wide in the channels when we push our fullbacks up.
So we’ve got to be smarter today than we have been in recent matches. We’ve got to control possession and look to leverage our creative players to break down what will be a stubborn Villa team.
None of us care how we do it, but three points is an absolute must this afternoon.