Pre-Match Report

Aston Villa v Arsenal - Match Preview

13/14: Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa - Jack Wilshere

“I looked at that game again this morning. I looked at the numbers and it was, of course, a big shock at the time.

“But, on the other hand, it was a good test for our mental solidity inside the club because nobody panicked. We gave a very swift and quick response when we went to Fenerbahce three days later and we have made a big way since then.

“And now we want to look in front of us and focus on what is coming. Waiting for us are big challenges.”

"We do not want to hide anyway, we want to fight for the title"

Arsene Wenger

Arsène Wenger may have to indulge us a little as, ahead of Monday’s trip to Aston Villa, it is inevitable that the mind wanders back to the game between the two sides at Emirates Stadium on the opening day of the season.

Everything went wrong for Arsenal that day - a poor display, a pair of ‘debatable’ penalties, one doubly punished by Laurent Koscielny’s red card, Villa’s season’s-best display topped by Brad Guzan’s superlative saves.

As Wenger concedes himself, the defeat was viewed through the lens of the summer’s transfer activity. One in which others had bought and Arsenal had not.

The Frenchman responded by saying Villa was a blip, his team had been otherwise great in 2013 thus far and he was still hoping to add quality.

He was right on all counts.

Nothing has been won (yet) but we are well past the halfway point of the season and third-placed Arsenal will return to the top of the Premier League if they continue their successful run at Villa Park.

However you could argue that opening-day defeat continues to colour the perception of Wenger’s team. Throughout October and November no-one would admit they were title contenders and then December was supposed to find them out. Even resting as many players against in-form Tottenham in the FA Cup third round was a ‘mistake waiting to happen’.

Although the manager has been happy to quietly fly under the radar until now he admits his side’s credentials are becoming a little more obvious.

“It is harder to do because we have shown consistency,” he said. “But we do not want to hide anyway, we want to fight for the title. Therefore we have to convince sceptical people but you do that only through the consistency of your performance and that is what we want to focus on.”

"Per is a human being with an exceptional attitude and it is rewarded through that"

Arsene Wenger

You could argue to personification of this unprepossessing Arsenal side is Per Mertesacker, the beanpole defender who will make his 100th appearance for the Club if he features at Villa Park.

The German never buckled under the weight of his detractors when he came to Arsenal. Yes, there are more elegant defenders and there are more skillful defenders in the top flight. But like the team he has started to captain, Mertesacker understands his strengths and, with a calm consistency, plays his game accordingly.

It is working.

“He is one of the important players of the squad,” said Wenger. “When you listen to what people said when he arrived and how people speak about him today, I think all that credit is down to him - his intelligence, his dedication and his huge desire to win things. He is a human being with an exceptional attitude and it is rewarded through that.

“When his game was questioned he responded very strongly and in a very intelligent way. What you want from a football player is that he gives everything possible and that is what Per is all about. He characterises the team well because all the players have a fantastic attitude.”

Villa are mid-table and, despite being only five points off the drop zone, have never really looked like being pulled into the drop zone. But their home record - P10 W2 D2 L6 F7 A14 - is relegation standard.

Arsenal’s last 14 Premier League games at Villa Park have brought seven wins and seven draws. But, despite having key players back from injury, Wenger knows the pressure of playing catch-up can do funny things.

It would be unforgivable to slip up in relatively quiet January having negotiated November and December with such diligence.

"Villa are a team who can put the effort in and at home they always give you a tough game"

Arsene Wenger

“Villa are a team who can put the effort in and at home they always give you a tough game,” he said. “Yes they are struggling more at home than away this season but we play last on Monday night, so we will be under pressure to deliver.

“I believe we can cope with that and you just want to focus and deliver another impressive performance.

“We have just come out of a convincing performance against Tottenham so let’s continue to develop our game.”

And, in the process, banish the memory of that opening day defeat.

It seems such a long time ago right now.

Team news:

Villa: Vlaar (doubt - knee), Baker (doubt - hamstring), Herd (hamstring), Bennett (back), Okora (knee), N’Zogbia (calf).

Arsenal: Ramsey (doubt - thigh), Gibbs (doubt - calf), Giroud (doubt - sickness), Ozil (doubt - shoulder), Vermaelen (knee), Bendtner (ankle), Sanogo (back), Diaby (knee).

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