I’d be telling you a big fat festive Christmas fib if I didn’t admit to being anything other than nervous about today’s game at Villa Park. I’ve been reading a few bits online, I’ve been taking in some Arsenal podcasts, plus reading a few Villa blogs too. They are cautiously optimistic. They know that it was going to be tough against City and Arsenal within a week and one that I’ve just read reckons that we’re the tougher game. That may be, because we don’t have (I hope, at the time of writing first thing Saturday morning) some of the key absentees that City had. But also both teams have played in midweek and although they were at home, they played on Wednesday and us on Tuesday, meaning that we’ve had the extra days rest.
Will that prove to be a marginal gain that gets us over the line? I’m not sure. When you have big matches between teams at the top of the division, the adrenaline kind of kicks in; we’ve seen it before and teams will raise their level and especially when it’s under the lights on an early evening kick off like tonight. We’ll be digesting all the transpires in the post game Same Old Arsenal pod at 8pm tonight if you fancy joining us.
Whether it’ll be a gay ol’ time with much merriment will depend entirely on the result. I’m not expecting Arsenal to be scintillating tonight; Villa are a good side, an ambitious side, an aggressive side who will look to press us and win the ball back higher up the pitch. I think under Emery they will adopt tactics that a re familiar to us – playing out from the back, etc – but they will also want to put our defence under the defensive kosh, so the name of the game today is to be ‘calma’ at the back. Arteta will inevitably go for Raya in that respect, but I think it’ll also be the same side that finished the game in midweek. He could go for Kiwior, but I think Arteta will value controll of the ball over physical prowess in the form of the Pole at left back, so Zinny will get the nod. And of course in front of him it’ll be Rice, with most likely Havertz and Odegaard in front as the eight’s. Havertz played well against Luton, got his goal and his hit a bit of a purple patch, so we need to lean in to that and give him the start. Then up front it’ll be tough to look at anyone other than the first choice front three and this is where we’ll need to do the damage. If Aston Villa play like they did against City with a high line, then there will be space to run in behind and that makes me wonder whether this is the type of game that Martinelli might thrive in. Think the Sevilla away game earlier in the season when he went racing away to bear down on goal; we need to see that kind of run and the right kind of pass if Villa want to adopt a very high press.
I really hope they do because one thing our defence is good at is breaking a press with their accurate passing. I keep thinking that Emery will surely not adopt the same approach as he did Wednesday night, but he is a man who sticks to his principles and after such a dominant display against the treble winners, he and his side will be bullish that they can repeat the trick. Their fans certainly think so. I’ve also read a few interesting takes, like “we have the better coach” talking about Emery, or “our midfield is better than theirs”, or “they aren’t that good – Luton scored three and we’re better than them”. As you and I know, football is not linear and A+B doesn’t always equal C. Luton was a bizarre game, our ‘keeper had a stinker, but all of the underlying metrics showed that on any other day we probably come away with a comfortable 2-0 away win, or something like that. We need to get back to being better defensively and that means Ben White being on it, Zinchenko not being ghosted past and certainly NONE of the silly lapses in concentration like Wolves at home. We’re in good goal scoring form, we need to keep that up, but keeping the back door shut tonight will be of paramount importance I suspect.
The stats tell me that Villa are a side that don’t launch the ball much, so I think we’ll try to catch them out at the back, but when I look at a number of other stats, like crosses made, short passing, medium passing, Villa sit squarely in mid table compared to other teams. Keeping Watkins quiet seems like the world’s most obvious statement, but last year when Bailey came on against us I thought he looked good and in Diaby they have a heck of a talent. It looks like they’ll go 4-4-2 style and the likes of Luiz covering ground will probably be something to look for. But in Declan Rice we have the best out of possession midfielder in the league and his screening of our back line gives me more comfort.
I’m not really sure how this one is going to go. Villa will start off aggressively, but even some of their fans are questioning whether they can maintain that for a full 90 minutes having done so well against City just a few days ago. I would still say a draw is a decent enough result for us given the fixture congestion, but that old adage keeps ringing in my head: you wanna be champions, you got to keep winning on tough away days like this. The next two away days could define whether or not we’re starting to believe – beat Villa and Liverpool away before Christmas and we might well start to think it could be our year. Two defeats – a perfectly plausible scenario – and I don’t know how bullish we’d all be.
Catch you all later if you fancy joining the pod, or tomorrow for a debrief on here.
Have a good one folks. Fingers crossed.