Aston Villa v Arsenal – live blog!

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Villa preview + left back may be required

Let’s start this morning with tonight’s game against Aston Villa.

We all know about our injured full back situation (more on that anon) and Djourou’s sprangled groin further complicates things. I would suggest we’ll see a start for Ignasi Miquel at left back, Laurent Koscielny on the right with Vermesackser in the middle. It’ll mean that Gervinho, down the left, will be required to offer a bit more protection to our left full than usual but Miquel has looked solid enough whenever I’ve seen him this season.

The other decision the boss has to make is who he chooses to replace the suspended Alex Song. Emmanuel Frimpong will offer more physicality and presence in the centre of the pitch but Francis Coquelin looks a better player on the ball and more comfortable in possession. Either way both of these young players know this is a big chance to prove their worth. Personally, I’d be inclined to take the Frenchman, and I know many of you are fans of the Coq as well, so we’ll see what Arsene does later on.

Up front the trio that started against Man City will get another go. Robin van Persie is chasing a Premier League record but I don’t think that’ll be his main concern. We have a game to win tonight and who gets the goals doesn’t really matter. In fact, much as I’d like Robin to beat Shearer’s record for the number of goals in a calendar year, I’d almost prefer someone else to score them, just to prove we’re not as reliant on him as we appear to have been in some games.

Gervinho, for example, could really do with a goal or two but any confidence boost for him in that regard would be ill-timed as he’s off to bless the rains down in Africa. Theo hasn’t scored since the Chelsea game, Ramsey not since Marseille away (rhyme!) and if we can spread the goals about the team a bit it’d be no bad thing. Then again, if van Persie scores the winner I won’t be complaining.

I watched some of Villa against Liverpool the other day, until I wanted to claw my eyes out with the tedium, and there’s no doubt they’ve been struggling in recent times. All the same McLeish makes me nervous. Not just because he looks like a young Hans Moleman either. The last time we faced one of his sides was the Carling Cup final and I’d really, really like some revenge for that. Yes, I know it was Birmingham, Villa’s hated rivals, but anything Villa get tonight because of their manager is the least they deserve.

It’s hugely important we get ourselves back on track straight away after Sunday. As we said there was no shame in defeat but failing to take 3 points tonight would be a big blow. Somebody above is going to drop some points tomorrow night and we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of that tonight to close the gap a bit. Villa will work hard and likely test us from set-pieces etc. I think this is a game in which we may have to be a bit patient but I have no doubt we’ll create the chances, we have to make sure we take them.

In other news, Arsene Wenger has admitted that Kieran Gibbs’ injury may force him into the transfer market for a left back on loan. There are fears Gibbs’ injury could rule him out for some time and with Santos already knackered for a few more months our options there are limited. He said:

It depends now on Gibbs. He sees a specialist again and if something happens there that he has had a real setback then possibly, yes.

It is not a shop, you just take a good opportunity that is on the market when you can. Overall that’s what we are doing at the moment. We are starting to look at players if Gibbs is not back.

Now, a loan signing really is the only option to us at this point. We paid £7m for Andre Santos in the summer and despite his injury woes and balsa wood frame the manager rates Gibbs highly. What’s worrying is that the first name linked to us this morning is Wayne Bridge. I’m hoping that this is just agent tittle-tattle, Bridge has finally got fed up just hanging around and going shopping and his people are trying to find him a new club.

Which is great for him, as long as that club isn’t Arsenal. The guy has played one game all season – a Carling Cup tie in September – so will be a long way from match fit, and anyone who saw him for West Ham against us last season will know that even if he is fit and as sharp as he can be, he’s anything but good enough at this level anymore. I know our need is temporary and that will prove restrictive but there’s got to be someone better than that out there. I’d rather have an actual bridge. Made from Lego.

People might say it’s hard to find a left back but if Wayne Bridge is the only option another solution is to bring in a right back on loan and play Vermaelen at left back. The manager says Sagna is back running but his return is still a good number of weeks away, so it’s something we could definitely look at, as well as trying some internal solutions. For all the talk about how we ‘need’ more full backs, the fact is we have four, having them all out injured at the one time is pretty much unprecedented. And it’s not as if Arsene hasn’t done something crazy in the past – like play a central midfielder there for the duration of a Champions League knock-out campaign – or anything.

Perhaps we don’t have a player like Flamini in the squad at the moment, someone the manager would trust to do the job, but it’s certainly an option. Then Ignasi Miquel, for example, is raw and a more of a centre-half but as much as Arsene has embraced experience in recent months it’d seem strange to me that he might overlook potential in an emergency for a washed up hasbeen like Bridge. Anyway, fingers crossed for Gibbs and that this story is one which doesn’t result in a Sylvesterisation of our defence.

In other news The Ox says he’s ready to play when called upon and I would be a touch surprised not to see him in the squad for tonight’s game.

Speaking of which, it’s not on the box but we’ll have full live blog coverage of it later on. Check back later on for the liveblog post or bookmark the default liveblog page. And as usual we’ve teamed up with Paddy Power to give you up to a £50 free bet – simply click here to register with Paddy Power.

Right, news as it happens throughout the day over on Arseblog News, catch you later for the game.