The away draw with Southampton can definitely be seen as a step in the right direction for Aston Villa, but the result will mean little unless they can take at least one point from the Arsenal game as well. The Gunners, on the other hand, are buoyed by the stunning 3-0 triumph over Olympiakos and head into this match as odds-on favourites.
Aston Villa were one of the bottom table sides that spent the most money on summer signings, but they have learned the hard way that money alone cannot buy success. The club chiefs had no choice but to sack Tim Sherwood following the disappointing start and with so many talented footballers in the squad, many of them with Ligue 1 experience, it was hardly surprising that Remi Garde was appointed as his successor. With four games having passed since the Frenchman took over, it is still early to make conclusions, but apart from the 4-0 loss to Everton, the Villans fared pretty well in the remaining three fixtures, with 0-0 draw with Manchester City and 1-1 stalemate at St Mary’s definitely serving as confidence boosts. In-form Arsenal are probably not the team Aston Villa would want to face now that they desperately need a win, but with the team sitting seven points adrift of safety and the Gunners arriving without a number of key men, the hosts will see their chance to try and surprise their more illustrious opponents.
Remi Garde has recalled Jack Grealish to the squad and the talented winger could play a part against Arsenal after he had been punished by the club.
Leandro Bacuna and Rudy Gestede have both been passed fit, but Micah Richards is rated doubtful through a knee problem.
With only surprise package Leicester City in front of them in the Premier League standings, Arsenal look they can mount a serious title challenge, and it would appear that the team are finally showing the character and winning mentality that were so desperately missed the previous years. The Gunners have had their share of problems and under-par performances, but each time they were written off, they would go on to produce a memorable performance, with victories over Spurs, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Olympiakos achieved at a time when many expected Arsene Wenger’s charges to break under pressure. The midweek’s 3-0 hammering of Olympiakos have got to be considered one of the greatest results in recent years when we know that the Gunners had lost previous three matches at the same ground, while arriving at Karaiskaki without a number of key men this time out. And even though most star players continue to miss out, the sheer excitement of making it to the Champions League knockout stages against all odds should prove enough to secure a good performance at Villa Park.
The good news is that Theo Walcott has returned into action, while there were no new setbacks in midweek after the game in Athens.
Nevertheless, Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicki remain in the treatment room.
Key Factors to Consider
- Aston Villa scored three goals in last two Premier League games
- However, they have eight defeats in last ten matches on all fronts
- Arsenal boast second-best away record in EPL (5-1-2)
- The Gunners are averaging two goals per away game this term
- Both teams have scored in three of Arsenal’s last four away matches
Aston Villa are showing signs of improvement, and they have no choice but to go for a win due to the seven-point gap behind safety. Meanwhile, Arsenal are buoyed by the memorable triumph over Olympiakos, so everything suggests we could see goals galore at Villa Park.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best Odds: 19/20
Bookmaker: William Hill