Happy matchday folks. Hope you and yours are well.

It’s two in a week for us; feels almost like the old days of the Europa League and Champions League, eh? Those feelings of playing every few days may have gone, but at least we’ve had a fair few like that with the League Cup and then this week, albeit with a bad taste left in the mouth after a disappointing performance against Crystal Palace. It’s annoying how certain teams seem to suddenly turn in to bogey teams for us and that’s now no win in four matches at home against Crystal Palace, which is frustrating. Bogey teams, they’re the worst, eh?

And so we turn to tonight, in which last season Aston Villa well and truly had the drop on us by hitting us with an effective counter-attacking display at the Emirates when we were our absolute nadir last season. It was a painful and sobering performance with a back three, Bellerin right wing back, Partey and Elneny anchoring the midfield and the misfiring trio of Auba, Laca and *sighs* Willian and it never really got close to the energy that Villa exhibited that night. We dominated possession, had nearly 200 passes more than Villa, but a familiar failing was that of the 13 shots we had only two were on target. Compare that to the opponents and they mustered 15 with six on target and hit us with a good press and rapid counters.

Tonight I expect the same game plan from Villa and so it will be interesting to see if we really have learned anything not just from last season, but from the last two matches. What Villa had last season that they don’t have this season is Grealish and Barkley pulling the strings, although Buendia and Bailey are their new men and I fully expect Buendia to have a blinder tonight. It basically happens to us every time that an ex-player, or a player heavily linked, pulls out the game of their life. Look at Benteke on Monday. The man never scores and yet he’s had two in three seasons at the Emirates. It’s just what we do.

Villa are expected to line up in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Buendia sitting behind Watkins and Ings and that gameplan will be to spring us with the rapid pace of those three. That’s where the individual duels today will be vital for us I think. If Villa move the ball quickly from back to front and bypass our midfield quickly whilst we’re running back towards our own goal, then they are players who can cause us issues with pace. So it is up to the back three of Tomiyasu, White and Gabriel to win those individual duels I think. When we are in possession and the ball gets turned over I expect Villa to rapidly go back to front and so if we win each individual duel when we are set in to our usual back three in possession, then they have to win it and break down.

Arsenal therefore have to be waiting for that counter and have to be better at probing in the final third. Out of possession Villa will sit in a back five and will tell us to just break them down. Then they’ll press their wing backs up the field quickly and look to exploit the space on the counter. That is why we need a better midfield than on Monday night. Partey cannot be left to patrol the midfield area when the ball goes in to Martinez’s gloves and he looks to play a quick ball out wide or to the front three. The midfield battle will be almost as important as those defensive duels. With that the case I am trying to think of options to play alongside Partey. I can’t help but think it has to be Lokonga. I just can’t bring myself to wanting to see Elneny in there. If we are going to have possession for most of the match he isn’t the guy you want receiveing it and passing it backwards. You want somebody who looks forward, wants to be progressive in his passing, which is why I would be going with him today. It looks like Bukayo trained yesterday, which is great and hopefully he is fit to start, but having him on the bench might be a perfectly good scenario too. Regardless of his fitness though, we can’t go with a midfield three of Partey, Odegaard and ESR; it simply doesn’t leave enough cover in the middle of the park and would allow Villa to counter straight through the middle of us. So my big hope for today is that Arteta goes with that 4-2-3-1 and we see Partey and Lokonga, then Odegaard in the middle, Pepe wide right, ESR wide left, with Aubameyang up top. There are people talking up a Lacazette start but we’ve just seen Aubameyang’s best game of the season so there’s no way he should be dropped in my opinion. He pressed like a man possessed, got a good goal in the first half, plus linked up will with Laca in the second. It wasn’t Aubameyang that was the problem on Monday night, it was our poor midfield and defence that cost us.

That is what needs to change tonight. We need better defensive solidity and we need more than just Partey surrounded by Villa shirts. We need to be more aggressive in our press too. We just switched off after 20 minutes on Monday and Arteta needs to have drilled in to the players this week that it simply isn’t acceptable.

I can’t say I’m overly confident tonight. We have failed to convince in all but one game this season and so I expect this to be a tough one. But for the foundation blocks on this team to be properly built we need to start picking up wins, even if they are horrible to watch and scrappy. Arteta needs to challenge his team to switch between his own structural rigidity and having their own confidence to go a little off piste tonight if the time requires it. That’s why I also wonder whether we’ll see a little more of Martinelli too, because along with Pepe he is one of our few players who you feel like go a little rogue at times. Arteta needs to lean in to that if he wants three points.

Let’s hope we get that. I no longer have the arrogance of believing that we should win any more, but I go in to every game with hope. Come on boys, let’s see a step up from Monday.

Catch you all tomorrow.