Monday, 13 January 2014

Villa vs Arsenal: Match Preview

No favours done by City and Chelsea to us, seeing they won 2-0 against their opponents making our game against Villa a must-win, similar to Cardiff, Newcastle and West Ham. The intensity of the Premier League has reached such levels that nothing less than a win would suffice here, and on the face of it, we do look more than likely to achieve that.

On the face of it. Didn't we look more than capable of beating Villa back in August too, even though the only signing we had made was Yaya Sanogo? Granted, we were a team short on confidence and missing key players like Arteta, but on paper, didn't the line up look strong enough to beat Villa? After all, it had been our solid back five, along with Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Walcott, The Ox and Giroud that had taken to the pitch on the season opener.

I do not even want to remember what unfolded later, and how much the pressure had mounted on the manager and the players. My point is that one cannot decide games simply on paper, especially in the Premier League. We're at a stage where we need to take games one step at a time and see whether City and/or Chelsea slip up, and this is just like one of those.

It's safe to say that we have a rested, talented squad that should get a win at Villa Park, and considering that the next one isn't for another week, we should see the team give its all. Most probably we shall see a backline of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal, given that there is an uncertainty over Gibbs' fitness.

I think that Wenger would go for Flamini and Arteta in midfield, to give us a good baseline there. In the game against Cardiff, it was apparent that the central midfield pairing of Flamini and Arteta had slowed down our game, and maybe that taught Wenger that pairing them together in a lowly game at home wasn't the best idea. It might work out well at Villa Park though, which is why I think Arsene will use that partnership.

In attacking midfield Ozil seems set to start, given Wenger's tendencies to haste his key players onto the pitch. I think that will result in Giroud getting a start as well, because we only have Podolski and Park Chu Young to play there if Ollie doesn't play a part. It's the wingers that will catch the eye though, seeing Theo Walcott being ruled out for 6 months.

The manager has 3 wingers - Cazorla, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain - to play in two slots, and it would be interesting to see whom he does start. While I think that Podolski is significantly better and fitter than The Ox, I think that we shall see the latter on the right flank with Santi on the left. I still don't think that Wenger trusts Podolski to start for Arsenal, and I still think that that's the wrong decision.

Podolski, along with Walcott, are the only two players who guarantee goals for Arsenal. Seeing that Theo has been ruled out till the season end, it would be wise to field Podolski more often. If Wenger does not play Podolski tonight, I'd be struggling to see where we would find goals from.

While the need for a striker signing has been boosted further by Walcott's injury, I strongly think that it's time for other members of the squad to step up. Players like Ozil, Ramsey (yes, Ramsey) and Wilshere need to find the net more often, and I can only hope that Giroud's, Cazorla's and Rosicky's recent goals pave the way for many more. I must admit that I'm worried about the fact that we've struggled to find the net in recent games. While winning ugly is a good title contender characteristic that we've developed, it's a bit of a risky habit to fall into. It's time we started securing comfortable wins instead of nervy one-nillers, which can only happen if the players score more.

I'm going for a narrow Arsenal win here, possibly a 1-0 scoreline. In the end, it would be vital and moral boosting, but it would also mask our inability to score more. Which is hugely worrying for a team challenging for the title, and kind of why we need another striker.

Come on You Gunners.

P.S. Wrote another article for Arsenal India Supporters. Check it out!

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

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