Morning folks and happy match day to you and yours. Let’s hope it’s an enjoyable one for all Gooners all over the world.

But this match is far from a foregone conclusion. Aston Villa represent a very tough opponent and I have to say, whilst for the last couple of days I’vevbeen feeling good about this game, today I have a distinct feeling of nervousness against a former Arsenal manager who has a recent history of getting good results against us.

Villa were one of four teams who have beaten us this season and their win at Villa Park wasn’t the first time Emery has got the better of us. As Villareal manager he oversaw our knockout in the Europa League a few season’s back and he will be fancying another upset today when we line up against them I reckon.

Arteta beat him at Villa Park last season with that 4-2 win with those last minute goals to maintain our title hopes in February 2023, but that was a tight game that we had to rely on last-minute wonder-strike to Jorginho, so I’m not expecting us to be giving Villa a pasting today. Emery is a pragmatist, we know that, so I suspect he will be set up to not get beat and to hit us on the counter too.

He’s got the players to do that as well. Spearheading the attack we all know the form and potency of Ollie Watkins (18 goals and 10 assists in 31 matches for the England international is very impressive indeed), but either side of him they have rapid forwards who Emery will surely be looking to deploy in transition against an Arsenal team that will be expected to dominate ball and territory. I think Emery knows that and he knows that they can’t adopt their usual position of a high line like he did against us at Villa Park. on that day Villa got away with a couple of iffy decisions, but they also benefitted from a profligate Arsenal that spurned a number of good chances (I remember Odegaard having one in particular- just outside the six yard line which he would normally have tucked away). Villa are fifth and fighting for a top four spot, but their expected goals allowed and their actual goals conceded is the seventh best in the league, which tells me they do give teams chances and if we get a few today we need to be tucking them away.

Their away form is decent enough – seven wins, four draws a five defeats – but they do give teams chances, conceding an average of just over four on target every game this season. That’s eighth best in the league and they tend to build up from Martinez quite a lot. They have conceded a fair bit from corners though – ten this season which is fourth highest – so there might be an opportunity for us here as we know just how good we’ve been from corners and set pieces this season.

The midfield might be where we can take advantage though. Douglas Luiz is suspended and as such they don’t have his defensive midfield attributes, as well as his passing range, which might force Emery to drop McGinn a little deeper to support their defensive line. If that happens then hopefully it is an advantage to us; McGinn likes to get forward and find spaces and was the one that bagged the winner against us in the early stages of the game in December, so if he’s kept away from making those late arrival runs in to our box, hopefully that’s a positive. But I do think that Emery will look to Diaby and probably Bailey to hit us on the counter. He’ll probably have Tielemans as the deeper-lying playmaker and we’ll need to be mindful of him; I’ve seen him score a wonder goal screamer against us when he was at Leicester so we need to be wary of his passing range and distance shooting.

As for us, I think Arteta will mix it up today, but only in certain positions. I do wonder if Gabriel Jesus might start, because I’m not sure whether he’ll be on from the start against Bayern and after his excellent sub appearance against the German Champions, I think he might get rewarded. Whether that means he’ll be coming in for Havertz up top, or Martinelli wide left, I’m not sure. But I have a hankering for this line up today:


White   –   Saliba   –   Gabriel   –   Zinchenko


Odegaard   –   Havertz

Saka   –   Jesus   –   Martinelli

I think that Jorginho might be saved for Munich and I think we’re going to have more of the ball and more of the space in the Villa half, so in this formation I’m adding as many attacking and creative players that I can in the front five, which is why Havertz drops back in to left eight and Gabby J comes in. Havertz will essentially be playing the same position anyway if you think about his place on the field and the zones he’ll operate in, so this just gives us that extra man if Villa do sit a little deeper and try to frustrate us. Which I think they will. They’ll be compact, they’ll be tight, they’ll look to frustrate, then they’ll counter with the pace they have in the front three and we need to be ready for that.

The good news is that they have had two days less to prepare and they are in a middle of a European cmapaign like we are, so that will also be on Emery’s mind as much as Arteta’s, so what we need to do is to counter that by doing out bit and shutting their passing lanes from deep to spring the counter. Control the ball, controll the territory, wear Villa down and hopefully we can get the three points.

I’ll be there singing my heart out as usual, then tomorrow evening we’ll discuss it all on the Same Old Arsenal podcast if you fancy joining us.

Catch you tomorrow.