By Chris Harris
Nervous about Saturday? Well, this won't help. Aston Villa have scored more goals from set-pieces than any other Premier League team this season. And in their ranks is the man who has probably caused Arsenal more problems in the air than any other striker in the past decade - John Carew.
The big Norwegian was responsible for two heart-breaking Champions League headers when he wore the colours of Valencia in 2001 and 2003. Now, with the pinpoint delivery of Ashley Young to feed off, Carew is hoping to leave an ugly dent in Arsenal's title ambitions.
Villa's improvement from dead-ball situations is symbolic of a general rise in standards since Martin O'Neill took charge in the summer of 2006. The Irishman has shaken up an under-achieving squad to the extent that a place in the Uefa Cup - or perhaps even the Champions League - is within Villa's range this season.
We asked Bill Howell of the Birmingham Mail for a Villa perspective ahead of Saturday's game at Emirates Stadium. Read on for his views on Villa's improvement, their key men, the chase for a European place, why Villa will not sit back on Saturday and Arsenal's 'chalk and cheese' performance at Villa Park.
STORY SO FAR
"It has been a remarkably good season. It started poorly with a home defeat against Liverpool, then they played out a goalless draw at Newcastle, the first between the sides in 70-odd years, and you thought there might be a problem. But things clicked, results came together, confidence grew and, by and large, barring two or three poor performances, the season has been very good.
"I would be really shocked now if they didn't make it into Europe although no one knows if sixth place will be good enough because the Carling Cup place has been taken by Tottenham. Villa have done exceptionally well but I don't think fourth place is realistic because, as Martin O'Neill keeps saying, Liverpool's squad is far stronger. Villa have got some tough away games - they have to go to Goodison Park, the Emirates this weekend and Old Trafford. They've got to go to Portsmouth as well. Villa have got a lot of winnable games at home though. Middlesbrough is coming up, Birmingham in the big derby is one they will certainly be looking at for three points. Sixth place would be a remarkable achievement."
MEN OF THE MOMENT
"Gareth Barry has been consistently good yet again. Villa have relied on him for a number of seasons and he is now playing in a good side for the first time since his early years at the club in the late-90s. He would get my nod for Villa's player of the season because he has been so consistent. There have been other good performers. Gabby Agbonlahor has been tremendous and is definitely the most improved player. It wasn't long ago that he went on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and Watford and couldn't get in their teams, now we're looking at him to be called up for England's game in France next month.
"There's also John Carew who has had a tremendous run of games and is top scorer with nine. Martin Laursen has been consistently good and deserved his new contract. He has been excellent. Olof Mellbery has played really well out of position at right back. And Ashley Young deserves a mention because he would get the award for the most assists in the Premier League. His set-piece delivery is something I've never seen at Villa Park and it's refreshing."
"Touch wood, I think Mellberg should make it. He missed the game at Reading but I think he'll return on the right side of defence which will allow O'Neill to tinker with one or two things. The Emirates is a really difficult place to go and, in the past, Villa have tried to pack the midfield. I think they will do that again to some extent, perhaps with Craig Gardner, Barry and Nigel Reo-Coker as a central midfield three, and then he'll have a lot of pace down the flanks with Agbonlahor and Young. I could be completely wrong - Marlon Harewood is doing all he can to get a first League start - but away from home that might be a risk.
"Villa will be chuffed to bits with a point but they won't attack this game negatively. If they produce the form they are capable of, Villa can really scare Arsenal. They've got pace and no team has scored more set-piece goals or away goals in the Premier League. I've watched Villa for eight years and for seven years they have been atrocious at attacking or defending set-pieces. All of a sudden they have a new armoury to their game."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Arsenal's first 45 minutes at Villa Park was the best performance I have seen this season and probably last season as well. It was beautiful - quick movement, 10-yard passes, Villa were out of the game, they were chasing shadows. In the second half I don't know what happened. Villa went for broke, Arsenal dropped deeper and deeper, their defence looked ragged and Lassana Diarra, who had controlled the game in the first half, started to struggle. They were without Fabregas and that influenced things, but it was a chalk-and-cheese affair. What I'm expecting on Saturday is much more of the first half.
"Arsenal do produce the best football in the country and Adebayor has done incredibly well to fill Henry's boots, but my fear is that Arsenal's great football might not win them the Premier League this time around. Manchester United were supreme in defence against Villa, they gave nothing away and I think that might be decisive."Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 28 Feb 2008