Possibly Arsenal’s biggest match of the season
Venue: Villa Park Date: Friday, 26 December Kick-off: 1715 GMT
Arsenal Likely Line Up (4-4-1-1)
Sagna – Gallas – Djourou – Clichy
Eboue – Denilson – Song – Nasri
Subs from: Fabianski, Silvestre, Vela, Ramsey, Wilshere, Toure, Bendtner,
Aston Villa Likely Line Up (4-5-1)
Cuellar – Knight – Davies – L. Young
Milner – Petrov – Barry(c) – Sidwell – A. Young
Subs from: Aston Villa (from): Guzan, Reo-Coker, Laursen, Shorey Harewood, Gardner, Salifou, Delfouneso, Osbourne
Injury Doubts: Cuellar, Laursen
Form Guide: Arsenal (5th) W9 D4 L5= 31 points Aston Villa (3rd): W10 D4 L4= 34 points
Tactics Talk: 4-5-1 or 4-4-2?
Arsene Wenger may decide to play Vela for his first Premiership start of the season or Diaby behind Van Persie though the Gunners were defeated at home last time they played the system against Villa. O’Niell is sweating on the fitness of defenders Cuellar and Laursen, the former a major doubt as Reo-Coker and Knight are in contention respectively if they are out.
The five man midfield will look to deny space and any gaps for Arsenal and it could be congested in the centre of the Villa Park pitch. The wide men and Agbonlahor will look to pressure Arsenal early as they did in their 2-0 win, suffocating space for the defence to pass out and win the ball early. If the Gunners get past the first wave they will have to contend with next, breaking in numbers with pace if they do get the ball. Having said that, at home Villa are likely to play with more freedom.
Gunners need to gel quickly
Injuries have affected the squad but there is still enough quality even if there is an unfamiliar look about it. Van Persie and Diaby will need to strike up a good combination while in the centre of midfield a more disciplined performance will be required. Denilson should fill the role of Fabregas although previous partnerships between the two have seen a shared role. If Knight plays his lack of mobility could be Aston Villa’s weakness but nevertheless it should be a tight contest.
Key Men: Denilson (Arsenal) and Gareth Barry (Aston Villa)
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal