Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side visit Villa Park to play Aston Villa on Monday night, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Nick Mashiter.
Aston Villa are on a disappointing run, having won just once in their last six Premier League fixtures, and being dumped out of the FA Cup by Sheffield United at home last weekend. However, Paul Lambert is a canny tactician, and has caused Arsenal problems with his strategy in recent years.
In the corresponding fixture last year, a 0-0 draw, Aston Villa’s midfield pressure was excellent. They stood off Arsenal’s centre-backs, allowing them time on the ball, but as soon as they played forward, Villa’s young, energetic midfielders sparked into life, pressing immediately and preventing the Gunners' midfielders from turning. A similar strategy should be expected this time around, and Arsenal must cope with that pressure.
"Paul Lambert is a canny tactician, and has caused Arsenal problems with his strategy in recent years"
Villa are one of the Premier League’s most reactive sides - only Crystal Palace average less than their 42.4 per cent possession per game, but they possess great counter-attacking potential. Wide forwards Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann have tremendous speed, and the third goal scored by Antonio Luna in Villa’s 3-1 win at the Emirates on the opening day demonstrates how efficiently they can use the ball.
However, Villa have problems at both ends. Christian Benteke, one of the Premier League’s star performers last season, managed four goals in his first four games this season, but has failed to net since. He remains a tremendous threat in the air - only Stoke’s Peter Crouch wins more aerial duals per game than the Belgian this season - but his poor form explains why Villa have scored fewer home goals than any other Premier League side.
At the back, where Villa play with a solid back four having experimented with a 3-5-2 last season, Lambert’s side are weaker towards their left side, as Luna is technically accomplished but can look timid defensively. In Manchester United’s 3-0 win at Villa Park last month, all 10 chances David Moyes’ side created came down that side, although the absence of Theo Walcott means Arsenal will have to find an alternative way to get in behind.
NICK MASHITER, EXPRESS & STAR
From the Villa fans' point of view they’ll be very disappointed with the season. That sounds odd when you look at the way they performed against Arsenal on the opening day but their performance levels have not been good enough. Paul Lambert will point to the fact that they are 11th in the table and six points clear of the bottom three but they have been quite fortunate to be where they are.
They have beaten Manchester City and Southampton this season so they've got some decent wins but it's the nature of their performances which have been questionable.
"If you look at the way Villa took the game to Arsenal at the Emirates, that was probably their best attacking display of the season"
At the start of the season the stand-out performer was Fabian Delph, there were a lot of people tipping him for an England call-up. I don't think he's there yet because he doesn't score enough goals and his form at the minute shows he's not made that jump just yet. Brad Guzan is always Mr. reliable, but on the other hand there are big players who have under performed.
Christian Benteke hasn't hit the heights of last season yet, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann haven't been at their best in terms of goals. Ron Vlaar is also a player they certainly miss, they've got their fingers crossed that he's going to be available for Monday. He's a massive player for Villa because he's a leader and has been one of the outstanding players for them this season.
I'm expecting a pretty open game on Monday. If you look at the way Villa took the game to Arsenal at the Emirates, that was probably their best attacking display of the season. They need to start winning at home and start putting a consistent run of form together. If Arsenal do go a goal up it will be very difficult for Villa to break them down because they just haven't got that attacking spark at the minute.
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