Aston Villa vs. Arsenal Preview

It was just over 13 months ago that Arsenal were beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa, and Chris Hudson’s post-match promo on Ivan Gazidis, Arsene Wenger, Tim Payton and John Cross effectively paid off Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV’s mortgage. It was a truly spectacular day, all things considered – Arsenal pretty much went about devising the most Arsenal-like home defeat ever recorded. It was a full-house on the Arsenal-loss bingo card. Squandered an early lead: check. Penalty conceded: check (x2). Laurent Koscielny mishap: check. Player(s) subbed due to injury: check. Late goal conceded on the counter-attack: check. “Spendsomefackingmoney” chants: Check.

The Gunners are going to have to really pull something special out of the bag to top that performance, but after their midweek display away to Dortmund, Wenger’s side are definitely in good shape for it.

Fans have been pondering the reason why their side have been so bad, and now seem to have placed the blame squarely on the subtle formation change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3. It is funny how Arsene Wenger turned down the chance to Cesc Fabregas in the summer because he wouldn’t fit into Arsenal’s system, before changing to a formation that would only actually benefit Cesc Fabregas.

Let’s not pretend, however, that a tactical re-jig is the only reason that Arsenal – excluding Community Shield matches that their opponents obviously didn’t care about – have been rubbish in every game they’ve played this season. A more likely theory would be the dip in form of Aaron Ramsey directly affecting that of the team. Arsenal’s performances last season can basically be split into two categories: Games when Ramsey played (good) and games when Ramsey was injured (bad). Him playing and playing badly is rather uncharted territory for this post-Gervinho Arsenal, but it seems as though the dependency on Ramsey is already mirroring that of Henry, Fabregas and van Persie in years gone by. In other words, Arsenal could probably do with Aaron Ramsey playing well.

Anyway, Arsenal’s record at Villa Park is actually pretty good. They haven’t been beaten there in the league since 1998 when – in not-very-Arsenal-like fashion then, but very-Arsenal-like fashion now – they threw away a 2-goal lead to lose 3-2. Since then, it’s generally been a mixture of 0-0s and narrow Arsenal victories. At the risk of venturing a serious prediction here, one of these two outcomes is probably quite likely to happen again.

It is quite easy to overlook the fact that Aston Villa are actually second in the table. This is mainly because after ten straight weeks of occupying that position during the off-season, they’ve managed to camouflage themselves from the select few who actually study the league table after four rounds of matches.

However, with a fourth-annual result at Anfield under their collective belt (which was actually a clause inserted in the Stuart Downing deal), Aston Villa may feel pretty confident about their chances of picking up a win against a deflated Arsenal side. Either that, or they’ll try to play for a nil-nil, then look around in a rather bewildered manner, mouthing “what do we do now?” to each other when Alexis Sanchez finally breaks the deadlock in the 76th minute.