Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Tim Abraham for their views.
Aston Villa’s last two matches were against big clubs, but couldn’t have been more different performances.
They were highly unfortunate to lose 3-2 at home to Manchester United having raced into a 2-0 lead, but then collapsed 5-0 at Manchester City. Interestingly, Paul Lambert used the same starting XI in both matches – and therefore the main conclusion is that Villa are more suited to playing big sides at home.
Like at Norwich, Lambert has focused upon working with unheralded players this season. He’s only used one player over the age of 28 in the league – and that was Shay Given, now demoted to back-up to Brad Guzan in goal. Another relative veteran, Darren Bent, has been dropped in recent weeks despite being one of the Premier League’s most trusted goalscorers, because Lambert believes Belgian signing Christian Benteke brings more to the side with his hold-up play.
Benteke is Villa’s primary goalscoring threat – he’s a huge physical presence, and Arsenal need a solid game from Per Mertesacker. If Arsenal cope with Benteke in the air, Villa might struggle to get up the pitch.
Lambert switched formations readily at Norwich, and could do the same after last week’s heavy defeat, but he’s more likely to persist with a 4-2-3-1 system. Benteke will be up front with Stephen Ireland playing the creative midfield role. Two holding midfielders protect the defence, with the energetic Ashley Westwood playing slightly higher up than Barry Bannan, who has the ability to spray the ball accurately to the flanks, and must not be given space.
Out wide, Gabriel Agbonlahor starts on the left but plays very high up the pitch, almost as a second striker in support of Benteke. On the other side, Andreas Weimann plays deeper and combines nicely with attacking right back Matthew Lowton, who overlaps significantly more than left back Enda Stevens.
Arsenal will focus upon ball retention and keeping Villa pinned back in their own half. If the front four show the same ruthlessness as against Tottenham last weekend, Arsenal can be confident of a victory at Villa Park.
TIM ABRAHAM, EXPRESS AND STAR
There’s a good feeling around Villa Park since Paul Lambert came in. They gave a spirited performance against Manchester United and there’s a genuine feeling that they can get a result. Arsenal are free-scoring at the moment, but if the defence can keep them out, there will be an opportunity for Villa to nick a result.
Lambert has changed the style of play. Aston Villa like to get the ball on the floor more and pass it around. Alex McLeish was criticised for his perceived negative mindset, and Lambert has a mantra of having a go and trying to win every game, no matter who the opposition are.
Recently, Villa have played a 4-2-3-1 formation that is spearheaded by Christian Benteke. He’s settled well and is probably the danger man. He’s been compared to Didier Drogba and looks like a bargain at £6 million. Generally he’s made a pretty good impact. Lambert likes his strikers to contribute with their all-round game. Benteke does that and that’s probably why he’s been preferred to Darren Bent.
There’s been a change in culture at the club and more emphasis is being put on young players. There’s a fresh and vibrant group of players at the club now and hopefully the likes of Matt Lowton will be stars of the future.
Villa have a whole new back four from last season and only Southampton and QPR have conceded more league goals. That speaks volumes. Arsenal are scoring a lot of goals so that could be the area Arsène Wenger’s team capitalise in most.
I’m going to go for a 2-2 draw, the same as a couple of seasons ago.
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