Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Villa preview: Let’s make it 5 wins in a row

This is the second attempt at starting this morning’s blog. I had written a couple of hundred words about the last time we played Villa at home – coincidentally with the same referee at the helm – but then I realised what happened back then was irrelevant (and it was bringing up some unpleasant memories and nobody needs to start their Sunday morning like that).

The only things that are the same today are the opposition, the officials, the venue, and us. Erm … well, we’re different than we were back then and we’re coming into this game on the back of the best run of form we’ve had all season. Granted, it’s not a huge unbeaten run (just four games) but in the wider picture in our last 14 games we’ve won 11, lost 2 and drawn 1.

We haven’t been hugely convincing at times this season, but hopefully this is a period where we’re building a little bit of momentum and confidence, and today is another good chance to get three points under our belts. Villa are struggling, sitting just above the relegation zone, but regardless of where they are in the league they’re generally tricky opposition.

Defensively they’re ok, conceding 25 goals (the same as us actually), but they’ve only scored 11 all season and that’s clearly their issue. We have had a tendency to be somewhat generous to opponents in the past, but let’s hope there’s a parsimony to our defensive display today that will continue their scoring woes.

In terms of the line-up I reckon we’ll see Hector Bellerin come back into the team at right back (assuming he’s fully fit) while at left back Nacho Monreal’s fine performances of late should see him retain his place. The two centre-halves pick themselves and Ospina will continue in goal after Szczesny didn’t do enough against Brighton to force his way back in.

In midfield I think Coquelin will replace Flamini, Ramsey and Cazorla will make up the rest of it, and with Alexis likely to be rested, it might be a chance for Mesut Ozil to get a start. A front three of Ozil, Giroud and Walcott will be interesting to watch – although the recent form of Tomas Rosicky must surely be giving the manager pause for thought about how he might fit him into today’s starting XI.

Still, how nice it is to have options and to worry about how to fit good players in good form into the team. A competitive environment can bring out the best of certain individuals, and with Welbeck, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere close to returns, the players who get the nod today will know these guys will be snapping at their heels for a place.

The teams around us all won yesterday, while Southampton play a weak Swansea later, so a win today is important. Arsene Wenger says:

We know we have some ground to make up and the fight around the top four is very difficult. The target is consistency now.

And if we can play as well as we did in our last three league games there’s no reason why today can’t be a success. I know there’s some fear over the referee because of his innate shitness and what happened the last time he took charge of this fixture, but it’s down to us to ensure that he becomes irrelevant (unless, of course, he’s out to garner more headlines for himself).

This game a few months ago, without Alexis, would have been a worry. Accusations that we’re a one-man team are unfounded but there’s no doubt he’s had a massive impact so far. Today we have to show we can cope and I think the quality is there to do that. As long as we can remain defensively solid and not make the kind of mistakes that cost us two goals at Brighton, then we’ve got the firepower to hurt them.

Fingers crossed.

Not much else happening this morning other than the Mirror suggesting the club are planning contract talks with Theo Walcott’s people this month. Now that’s going to be an interesting discussion because things have changed significantly at Arsenal since his last ‘negotiation’.

For a more in-depth discussion on this, you can hear Tim Stillman and I chat about it on the Arsecast this week (starting at around 23′ if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing).

As always we’ll have full live blog coverage of today’s game for you. Check back later for a post with all the details or bookmark our default live blog page.

Until then, have a good one.

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