Arsenal face Aston Villa in the Premier League at Villa Park on Monday.
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One of the most encouraging aspects of Arsenal's 2-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur last time out was Serge Gnabry's confident performance. The Germany youth international had impressed already this season, scoring his first senior goal at Swansea City and winning a penalty at Crystal Palace, but this was a much bigger test - and he flourished.
Nominally starting on the right wing, the 18-year-old caused the Spurs defence real problems as he cut inside and linked up with Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. Indeed, as our chalkboard above shows, he played five key passes (yellow squares) - and all were from a more central position. He also claimed the assist for Cazorla's opening goal (blue square) and once again that came from him springing inside and running at the Tottenham defence.
With the news of Theo Walcott's season-ending injury, Gnabry is likely to play a far more prominent role in the squad during the second half of the campaign. But if his exciting north London derby performance is anything to go by, he will relish the added responsibility.
KEY BATTLE - LUNA v GNABRY
Gnabry is expected to come up against Villa's attacking left-back Antonio Luna at Villa Park on Monday night and will fancy his chances of causing major problems. The Spaniard is a technically-accomplished player and can offer a real threat going forward on the counter-attack - as evidenced by his late goal against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in August.
However, Gnabry has shown his commitment to his defensive duties every time he has played this season and will also hope to push Luna on to the back foot. A former sprinter, Gnabry may not be as quick as Walcott but he can cause opposing defenders a real headache, while his tendancy to drift inside could pull Luna out of position and allow Bacary Sagna space on the flank to thrive.
It should be a fascinating contest - but one that Gnabry will look forward to after his starring performance against Tottenham.
ASTON VILLA v ARSENAL - MATCH FACTS
- Victory in this game would be Aston Villa's 300th in Premier League history
- Arsenal are unbeaten in 14 Premier League trips to Villa Park, winning seven and drawing seven
- The Gunners' 14 game unbeaten run at Villa is their longest away run without defeat against a single side in Premier League history
- Arsenal conceded two penalties in the reverse fixture against Aston Villa this season for the first time in the Premer League since Feb 5 2011 v Newcastle
- No team has scored the first goal in more Premier League games this season than Arsenal (15). Conversely, no side has scored the first goal on fewer occasions this season than Aston Villa (5)
- The Villains have kept just two clean sheets in their last 21 home league matches
- Arsène Wenger's side have won just two of their last nine Premier League matches in January (D2 L5)
- Aston Villa have used fewer players in the Premier League this season (21) than any other club
- Aston Villa have won only one of their last nine Premier League home games in January (W1 D4 L4)
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