Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Aston Villa on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Tim Abraham for their views.
Paul Lambert succeeded at Norwich City last season partly because of his adaptable tactics.
He changed formation regularly to exploit the weaknesses in opponents, and Norwich’s 3-3 draw at the Emirates last year was a fine example of Lambert fielding a surprise line-up to claim an unexpected point.
"Defensively, Aston Villa’s biggest weakness is their inability to cope with crosses and defending set-pieces"
So far, his tinkering has proved less successful since his summer switch to Aston Villa. Lambert has primarily utilised two systems - either a 4-2-3-1, or a 5-3-2 featuring energetic wing-backs.
The latter formation has been used in a couple of tricky away matches, with wildly different results: the 3-1 win at Anfield was Villa’s finest performance of the campaign, yet the 8-0 defeat to Chelsea was the heaviest defeat in their history. The 5-3-2 means Villa are outnumbered on the flanks, with the opposition full backs given time on the ball to cross.
On Saturday, Lambert is more likely to use his 4-2-3-1, similar to the shape he used in the reverse fixture, a frustrating 0-0 draw at Villa Park. There, the main feature of Villa’s play was their energetic pressing in midfield - they allowed the Arsenal centre backs time on the ball, but immediately closed down on the first forward pass.
Defensively, Aston Villa’s biggest weakness is their inability to cope with crosses and defending set-pieces. This was the major problem in their Carling Cup defeat to Bradford City, and although Ron Vlaar’s return has provided some much-needed experience, Villa have struggled to withstand late spells of pressure in recent weeks.
Villa’s main attacking weapon is Christian Benteke, one of the signings of the season. He’s an incredibly powerful striker who dominates in the air, and holds the ball up intelligently. Arsenal must prevent crosses coming into the box.
On the flanks, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann offer raw pace, and will track Arsenal’s full backs before springing forward on the break. Darren Bent, who has often been a substitute this season, scored twice here in 2010/11.
TIM ABRAHAM, EXPRESS AND STAR
In previous seasons, Villa have had a good record at the Emirates. They're battling against relegation at the moment but held Arsenal to a draw at Villa Park. Arsenal have lost their last two games so I think Villa will go into the game with a bit of optimism.
Christian Benteke's physical presence is their main threat at the moment. He's been their player of the season and is a focal point of the attack. He's a boyhood Arsenal fan too so he'll be pumped up for the game.
Paul Lambert tinkered with the system for a while and played three at the back. I think he's settled more on a 4-2-3-1 now and there's a lot more confidence about the team now.
Villa have struggled against teams who can keep the ball quite well. They've maybe been guilt of chasing games too much, rather than standing off and reading the game. I think that's where Arsenal might have the advantage. If Villa were to go behind, they might struggle to get back into the game. They'll focus on keeping it tight and then maybe nicking a goal on the break late on.
I think Villa will get a 1-1 draw and nick a point.
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