Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Villa preview: Final third efficiency the key

It’s an early kick-off on a Saturday as we travel to the midlands to take on Aston Villa.

After an energy sapping midweek performance, you do wonder if the manager might make a change or two to both add some fresh legs, and to give his team something a little different. The difficulty is that we’re not exactly replete with options, but I wouldn’t be averse to seeing Ben White at right back, Kieran Tierney come in at left back, and Leandro Trossard get a start ahead of Gabriel Martinelli.

Beyond that, I don’t think there’s a lot we can realistically do, plus it leaves us with some players on the bench who can change the dynamic if necessary. The continued absence of Thomas Partey makes Granit Xhaka’s experience – and size – more important, and I don’t really think Fabio Vieira is ready yet for the blood and thunder of a Premier League away start in that position. There appears to be some good news in that Emile Smith Rowe is back in training, and all going well should be in the squad today to give us another attacking option from the bench.

On changes, Mikel Arteta said:

Every week, we consider the best possible option for players and where they are in terms of performance, mentally and physically and for sure tomorrow we’ll do it again.

And although he had some comments about the fact we’re playing early on Saturday after a Wednesday evening game, he played down the idea that fatigue should be an issue, saying:

It’s very difficult to play tomorrow [but] we will have full energy. It’s not a worry – I want the players to be in the best possible mindset and physically ready to get that challenge going.

They are young – they have a lot of energy!

That said, it’s not unusual for a team that has had midweek action to take a bit of time to get going at the weekend, but more than ever today feels like the kind of day where a fast start would be hugely beneficial. You don’t feel tired legs when you’re playing well and on top (hopefully with a goal or two). It’s when you’re scrapping and struggling that they feel heavy, like you’re running through treacle.

Under former Arsenal boss Unai Emery, Villa have been playing a fairly flat 4-4-2, so much will depend on our wide men, whoever they might be, to find space and test the fullbacks. If we can force them back, we may have to deal with an opposition side in a low block, but Arteta believes that’s a situation we’ve dealt with plenty of times already this season. He says:

How many low blocks have we faced this season? 16 – and we have won a lot of those games and we have merited at the end to have won most of those games but then it is about efficiency.

Efficiency is the word he used after Man City, and it’s spot on. We have to take the chances we make today. There’s just been a little something missing in the final third in the last couple of weeks. The shooting has been a bit wayward, the decision making a bit delayed, and that can be the difference between a half chance and a good chance.

Arteta was honest about the mistakes we made against City, but keen to remind his team how well they’d played against the champions. They had their lowest ever possession stat under Pep Guardiola, and while you don’t get any prizes for that, it does tell you something about how far we’ve come. Let’s hope that the frustration of getting nothing from yet another game against them is reflected in the quality of our performance today.

We had a tough 2-1 win over Villa earlier in the season, so let’s hope we can make it a double later on.

Right, that’s it. We will have live blog coverage for you, as well as all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. Join us for all that, there’s a preview podcast on Patreon to listen to in the meantime, and I’ll catch you in a few hours for kick-off.

Come on Arsenal!

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