Monday, May 20, 2024

Villa tricky meat in the Bayern sandwich

Morning all.

We’re in Premier League action later on this afternoon when we take on Unai Emery’s Aston Villa at the Emirates. There was little to no team news reported when Mikel Arteta met the press, beyond a story about Gabriel being missing from training, so it’s hard to know how the manager might tweak things for today.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact this game is sandwiched between our Champions League games with Bayern, and while the focus will be 100% on what we need to do today, the schedule is likely to have some impact on team selection. Whether it’s a decision about a player who might be feeling something from Tuesday in order to protect him for next week, or adding some fresh legs here and there, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there were at least a couple of changes.

If Gabriel isn’t available, the options are Jakub Kiwior, or Takehiro Tomiyasu. The former is probably more match-fit, the latter probably just a bit more secure defensively – he plays LCB for Japan all the time – and someone who could benefit from getting minutes. I’m sure it hasn’t passed Arteta by that Villa have a lot of threat down their right side with the likes of Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby, so who he thinks his best choice at left back might play a part too.

Villa are weakened in midfield due to the absence of Douglas Luiz (suspended), and Boubacar Kamara and Jacob Ramsey are both injured, so that too might influence team selection. If Gabriel Jesus is as fit as the manager says he is, I wonder if we might see Kai Havertz drop back into midfield to let the Brazilian start up front, while players like Emile Smith Rowe and even Thomas Partey might fancy their chances of a start today.

I’d give Gabriel Martinelli the start on the left, because although he wasn’t great against Bayern in midweek, he’s the one player you can really envisage making the most of Villa’s high line if we can find the right passes in behind it. It was a feature of the game at Villa Park, not one we made the most of it, but hopefully that’s something we can exploit today. They’re likely to have Ezri Konsa at right-back, and while a centre-half at full-back isn’t the weakness it once used to be (as we well know), it’d be good to see Martinelli cause him some problems. I think he’s somewhat overdue a good performance, and I’ve already earmarked Leandro Trossard for the start in Munich so today is a chance for him.

Villa’s threat is fairly obvious, with Ollie Watkins enjoying a superb season, and he’s not just about goals, he has 10 assists in the Premier League too. So our job isn’t simply  stopping him scoring, he’s a foil for others who can provide danger and end product, so our defence needs to be on its toes today. The goals we conceded in midweek were entirely preventable, so tightening up and ensuring those were just a blip in an otherwise impressive record of late will be really important.

Arteta says of today’s game:

It’s the most beautiful part of the season coming up right now and a very busy schedule. We’re going to have a really tough game against a really good side, and are we going to have to be really good to beat them.

At this point, every game is going to be difficult, with the pressure of the title-race etc, but this is a game we’re more than capable of winning. I also think what happened in the away game, with Arteta in the stands and the late drama around the Havertz handball, will be fuel for the pre-game chat today. We’ve used stuff like that to good effect previously, so let’s keep fingers crossed we can do it again. And, despite the fact we had midweek action, Villa have a couple of days fewer to recover after their European game, so hopefully we can play in a way which makes them feel that in their legs.

Right, let’s leave it there. We have a preview podcast for you over on Patreon, so get stuck into that, and you can join us later for live blog coverage of the game, and all the post-match stuff on Arseblog News.

For now, have a great Sunday.

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