Arsenal are traveling to Aston Villa, as they try to get their title challenge back on track. It has been a damaging few weeks for the Gunners, as their hopes to win the title have been dampened. They have taken just one point from their last three matches, the latest of which was a loss to Manchester City. This could be looked back on as the turning point of the season. It is crucial for Mikel Arteta’s men to bounce back and show that they have the mental resilience required to finish at the top of the pile. For Villa, they have had a mixed record since the appointment of Unai Emery. The Spaniard will be facing his former club and he will be keen to get one over on Arteta.
It has been a season of transition for Villa, with a change of manager. Emery is seen as an ambitious long term appointment, who can bring European football back to Villa Park. They are just out of the top ten and the short term aim will be to move into those places. It will provide a good platform from which to build from. These are the matches that Emery often does his best work, as he is very good at coaching an underdog. The extra layer of narrative that comes from his past connection with the Gunners makes it even more interesting for the neutral.
The Gunners haven’t won a Premier League match since the 22nd January. In 2023, they have only won three matches across all competitions. This is the first rocky period for Arteta and Arsenal to negotiate. Although Manchester City have caught up with them, they do have a game in hand and their fate is still in their own hands. The performance was good against City, but they failed to make their chances count and there were some individual errors at the back. Thomas Partey was missed, while the decision to remove Ben White may be looked back on with regret.
There have been ten goals scored across Aston Villa’s two Premier League matches in February. Emery will want more control in matches, so this trend is unlikely to continue.
Arsenal have a good record in this fixture, winning ten of the last 13 meetings across all competitions.
The midfield battle will be crucial for Aston Villa. They have a good pairing of Boubacar Kamara and Douglas Luiz. Both will be watched by clubs in European competition, as they certainly have the ability to perform at that level. It was seen as a coup by the club when they landed the French international during the summer. Although it was a free transfer, there was no shortage of interest in the midfielder and it was expected that he would move to a Champions League club. In the short term, he will want Villa to progress and compete higher up the Premier League. The appointment of Emery should help the club do that. Kamara is averaging 2.7 tackles and 0.8 interceptions per ninety minutes. He will need to be at his ball-winning best to dominate the central areas on Saturday. There will be some tiredness after Arsenal’s match in the week, while Partey may not be back. If he isn’t, Villa will believe they can control the midfield.
There has been some inconsistency in the Arsenal front line recently. Martin Odegaard isn’t influencing matches in the way that he was a few weeks ago, while Gabriel Martinelli is carrying less of a threat. Leandro Trossard could come in for the latter before too long, but the player with no threats to his game time is Bukayo Saka. He has continued to perform to a high standard and he feels like the talisman in the Gunners’ attack. During the week, he scored the goal against Manchester City from the penalty spot. From open play, he caused City a lot of problems down his side of the pitch, with Bernardo Silva needing to constantly foul the England international. Saka now has eight goals and eight assists in the Premier League. It is a remarkable record and underlines his status as one of the league’s best players. Lucas Digne isn’t the best defensively. Saka can get a lot of joy down that side of the pitch.
It is hoped that Tyrone Mings will be back to start after missing the trip to Manchester City. Diego Carlos is getting closer to a return, but this match will come too soon. Bertrand Traore is another nearing a return to the squad.
Thomas Partey’s injury status wasn’t fully known during the week. He could be back, but the quotes from Mikel Arteta aren’t very positive. Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Jesus remain on the sidelines. Ben White could come back into the team after being dropped for the match against Manchester City.
This is a huge game for Arsenal. After looking imperious at the top of the division, the pressure is now on. In the past, they have been criticised for their mental fortitude. Last season, they collapsed from a position of strength to miss out on the top four. Arteta will be hoping that the squad has developed since then and they are now better equipped to deal with the pressure. Villa have been conceding a lot of chances lately, but they do carry a threat. Goals are expected at both ends. The visitors should have enough to take the three points.
Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal