Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Sunday marks the end of a disastrous Aston Villa campaign. They have conceded the most goals in the Premier League, scored the fewest, recorded just three victories all season and have been bottom since the start of November. Nothing has gone right.
"Against Newcastle, Black decided to use two pacey, mobile attackers as his strike partnership. Scott Sinclair is naturally a winger capable of dribbling directly towards goal, but has often been used in a central position more fitting for his No 9 shirt"
Villa tend to defend extremely deep - an obscure but telling statistic is the fact they’ve caught the opposition offside less than any other Premier League team this season. Eric Black’s major tactical decision has been a switch to a three-man defence for the past couple of matches, which has provided cover at the back.
Joleon Lescott has played as the spare man, with Ciaran Clark, another traditional centre back, playing alongside him. The third defender is given more freedom to move forward when the opportunity presents itself: either Leandro Bacuna on the right of the trio, or left-sided Kevin Toner, who has impressed under Black.
Toner, a young Irishman, was pushed forward to left wing-back against Newcastle because of Aly Cissokho’s suspension, and could continue in that position here. Right wing-back Alan Hutton is another suited to this system – his attacking quality means he’s happier when given license to push forward down the touchline.
In central midfield, Villa have competed reasonably well this season. Idrissa Gana Gueye has impressed since joining from Lille last summer, and has made the second-highest number of tackles and second-highest number of interceptions in the Premier League this season, behind Leicester’s N’Golo Kante. He’s considered a defensive midfielder but is also capable of moving forward in possession and has therefore been handed a more adventurous, box-to-box role.
Carlos Sanchez, meanwhile, sits in a deeper position and plays careful passes towards the flanks, and the midfield trio is completed by Ashley Westwood, who plays cautiously to the right. In truth, the midfield triangle lacks attacking qualities, with all three probably most comfortable at the base of the trio, and the absence of the absence of creative midfielder Jordan Veretout has been another blow. Villa are capable of dominating possession for spells, and their average possession share is higher than you’d expect for a relegated side.
Against Newcastle, Black decided to use two pacey, mobile attackers as his strike partnership. Scott Sinclair is naturally a winger capable of dribbling directly towards goal, but has often been used in a central position more fitting for his No 9 shirt. Jordan Ayew, meanwhile, has shown flashes of brilliance this season, scoring seven goals, and is dangerous when cutting on to his right foot from an inside-left position. Rudy Gestede, extremely dominant in the air, is another option but makes more sense as a Plan B.
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