Arsenal will begin a London February tour of games with the visit of Aston Villa on Sunday and while current form may swing it in one direction, the history of this fixture would make the top-of-the-table clash to come on Saturday only a prelude.
There is a genuine feeling now, amongst Arsenal supporters, that the club has finally found stability this season and four wins in a row does not do much to disprove that.
After the falling apart on New Year’s day, the Gunners have scored 10 times in 4 games, conceding only twice. A much more telling statistic would be that Arsenal have not failed to win any home game since that defeat to United in November, spanning 6 games.
But Villa are not in poor form, either and while the memory of last season’s opening day defeat may not be as fresh again, it is still worth noting that Paul Lambert’s teams have generally proven a handful to Arsenal at the Emirates, even Norwich. They have had their problems scoring goals this season and at 15th place on the log and only 5 points ahead of bottom team Leicester, but Christian Benteke seems to gain some bout of motivation whenever he sees Arsenal, with four goals in as many games.
With the additions of Carles Gil and Scott Sinclair, Lambert can boast of a team that can threaten more in attack and while you won’t rate them above the Gunners’ forward line, you would be rash not to fancy them against a yet imperfect Arsenal defence. Fabian Delph will want to prove that he has made the right choice by signing an extension till 2019 rather than turn at the Emirates on deadline day to force through his Champions League dream.
LOST WITOUT ALEXIS? SAYS?
Being without Alexis Sanchez has to be a main blow for this game having being the ruby in the crown for the bright sparks in the Gunners topsy-turvy ride this season. He had only failed to appear in one Premier League game this season, the 3 – 0 win at Villa Park earlier in the season, and that could perhaps be a pointer to the fact that the Gunners could do without him after all. He may have scored 12 League goals, one more than the entire Villa team has manage, and 18 in all competitions, but the fact that Arsenal have had 18 different scorers this season, more than any other side, means there is that pressing selection headache which every manager dreams to have.
The Villa game in September saw Ozil score his first goal and assist this season, and having done so against Brighton, you wouldn’t put it against him to be the difference in the game this time. He will not have Welbeck to exchange assists with but in Cazorla and Rosicky, exciting combinations should abound. He has been questioned as to how much he can give to the team in comparison to Alexis et al, and though he never comes across as having a point to prove, he will be working hard to show those gym hours have not been in vain.
With Tottenham to come next weekend, there may be the thought of shuffling the pack, which may include a debut for Gabriel Paulista. But Wenger would know the benefit of momentum and that this bird at hand now is worth two in the bush.
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