Arsenal host Aston Villa, with three points certainly the target for Mikel Arteta after being held to a draw against Crystal Palace on Monday.
Mikel Arteta might have been disappointed with his side’s performance against Crystal Palace on Monday night. Having taken the lead pretty early in the game, Arsenal allowed Palace to come back into the contest by virtually gifting two goals through defensive mistakes.
The Gunners had Alexandre Lacazette to thank for his equaliser virtually in the last minute of the game, which salvaged a point along with some pride. A defeat would have been catastrophic to Arteta’s buildup to the Aston Villa game in addition to the crushing blow it may have delivered on their overall morale.
Arsenal now face Villa in a crunch encounter at the Emirates, with Arteta firmly targeting three points. The game’s timing might not suit the Gunners, who have not done well during recent fixtures held on a Friday night, losing the last two without scoring a single goal. Moreover, their recent record against Aston Villa has also not been good.
Arsenal were beaten by the Midlands club on both occasions last season, with a formidable 3-0 victory at the Emirates the highlight. Arteta hopes to improve on such a terrible record and make amends for recent results against Brighton and Palace. Had they won on Monday and then beat Villa on Friday, the Gunners might have been in the top-four.
Aston Villa come into this game on the back of a disappointing last-minute loss to Wolves at the weekend. Dean Smith will have been displeased with his team for surrendering a commanding 2-0 lead to let Wolves into the game and snatch a late winner. That was their fourth defeat of the season, as Villa sit one point behind Arsenal.
A victory on Friday night will see them leapfrog the north Londoners on the table and create a viable base for the next set of fixtures. Recent results against Everton and Manchester United have been their only victories in the last six Premier League matches. Meanwhile, Villa have succumbed to defeats in three of their four away games this season, and Smith will be eager to rectify the record at the Emirates.
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? ???????: New training pics!
? The latest images from London Colney are in ? pic.twitter.com/cGQFyjPTWN
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 21, 2021
Mikel Arteta will have to make crucial decisions based on which of his players are absent for the Villa clash. The big blow could be the possible absence of Bukayo Saka, who is yet to recover fully from that James McArthur kick. The manager confirmed his absence from training during the week, which more or less rules him out for Friday. He did appear in the latest training pictures, but might not be fully fit.
Granit Xhaka continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury and remains out at least until the new year. His absence has created a problem for Arteta to get his midfield partnership right. So far, the central players have struggled, which may prompt him to make further systematic changes.
Albert Sambi Lokonga, despite his high profile error against Palace, remains in contention to start alongside Thomas Partey in a double midfield pivot. Alternatively, Arteta could begin with the same system against Villa, with Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard in midfield alongside the Ghanaian.
The latter system allows the attackers to play with more freedom but puts too much pressure on Partey as the lone holding midfielder. The presence of Lokonga could allow a more balanced midfield, although we reckon it will again be a midfield three with the emphasis placed firmly on attacking football.
Alexandre Lacazette, who played such a vital role since coming off the bench against Palace, is in line to start on Friday. He could move centrally, allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to be shifted on the left side. Gabriel Martinelli also impressed off the bench but is likely to remain there. Despite having an abysmal game on Monday, Nicolas Pepe could continue in the lineup from the right side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney; Odegaard, Partey, Smith-Rowe; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Dean Smith will have an almost full squad at his disposal against Arsenal. How he tinkers through his starting lineup is anybody’s guess. In recent games, Villa have played cautiously, with Smith choosing to keep some of his high profile attacking players on the bench.
All set for Friday Night Football. ✨
? #ARSAVL pic.twitter.com/FzchdV339X
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) October 21, 2021
Emiliano Buendia is getting back in favour of starting after sitting a few games on the bench. He could be in line for a start at the Emirates, with Smith likely to retain his two strikers on the front. Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins will be eager to continue their growing partnership as the front two.
Doubts over Emiliano Martinez and Douglas Luiz were banished last weekend when they started in the Wolves game against all odds, having had under 24 hours since returning from South America. Meanwhile, Leon Bailey, who starred and then suffered an injury against Everton, is reportedly passed fit, although we suspect he might not be risked from the start.
Trezeguet remains the only sure absentee for this game. Morgan Sanson could be involved, probably from the bench, which could mark his long-awaited return to Premier League football.
Smith could retain the shape of his squad with a back three the likely formation for Friday. Axel Tuanzebe could keep his place at the heart of the defence. Matty Cash, who was forced off with a dead leg, is expected to be fit and take his place at right wing-back.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Martinez; Konsa, Tuanzebe, Mings; Cash, McGinn, Luiz, Targett; Buendia; Watkins, Ings
- Arsenal have tasted back-to-back defeats in games played on a Friday night, scoring no goals in those clashes.
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five Premier League games.
- Arsenal have suffered one defeat in their last six games at the Emirates
- Aston Villa have kept a clean sheet in their previous three matches against Arsenal in all competition, winning those clashes.
- Aston Villa have lost three of their four away games in the Premier League this season.
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There certainly is increased pressure on the Ghanaian’s shoulders after Xhaka’s long-term injury was confirmed. He is yet to have a good game since the Swiss midfielder’s absence, as the performances against Brighton and Palace are proof. Arsenal need a proper leader in the middle, and in reality, they have no option other than him.
The problem has been adjusting to his new position, and the Palace game was an example when he looked to lose control of situations at times. Partey needs to step up his game, particularly against quality opposition like Villa when they visit the Emirates.
Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa
Dean Smith’s side have shown indifferent form on the road, which could continue during their trip to north London. While their record against Arsenal, particularly at the Emirates, has been bright in recent seasons, they face a Gunners side desperately looking for a win and end their winless run of two games now.
Expecting a cagey clash at the Emirates, Arsenal could come out victorious due to their superior attacking quality. Villa have tremendous players on their side, but away from home, they might struggle against Arteta’s side to get three points.
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