The boys in red and white line up defensively against Villa
Tonight, a desperate Aston Villa side will throw everything they’ve got at us to try and cling on to their place in the Premier League.
It will, as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo, be a case of “hard pounding.”
Villa are in the drop zone with two games to go. Their only chance of survival is to catch Watford, who are three points ahead of them (also with two games to play) and a better goal difference.
Fail to win tonight, and Villa are effectively down.
Couple that with the sheer amount of games our squad has played recently and the need for rotation and this result is far from certain.
Since the restart Villa have won only one game (against Palace) but they have had one of the toughest runs-in of any team, with almost all their opponents in the top half of the table including Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea, Wolves and Sheffield United.
There would be something typically Arsenal-ish about beating Liverpool and Man City then losing to lowly Villa, but I have a feeling we’ll come through this one OK.
The optimism in our squad is obvious and few of the players are guaranteed a start in our FA Cup Final team, so all are playing for places.
With another game on Saturday and then a week’s rest before the Final, I expect El Patron to make quite a few changes tonight.
Here’s my predicted (preferred) line up:
Soares – Sokratis – Holding – Kolasinac
Torreira – Xhaka – Willock
Saka – Nketieh – Nelson
My team may be more radical than Arteta will go with, but we’ll see.
I’m sure that Nketieh will start after completing his harsh three match ban and Nelson deserves another shot after scoring on his last appearance (and playing well).
This will be a very different challenge compared with our last two games, where we sat back against superior teams and soaked up pressure.
Villa are clearly nowhere near the class of Man City and Liverpool. However, they need all three points so they will have to come at us.
I would be tempted to play a tight defensive game and hit them on the break, even though their league position suggests we should try to just come out and steamroller them.
We’re getting better at playing out from the back and we have players with the speed and skill to kill Villa on the counter, hence my ostensibly cautious approach.
Grealish is the stand-out talent in the Brummies’ side. He’s also their top scorer in the PL with seven. It’s quite striking (pun intended) that not a single Villa player is in double figures for goals this season, a fact that goes a long way towards explaining why they’re in trouble.
I have two concerns from an Arsenal perspective: our vulnerability at set pieces (as in the second Spuds goal) and the risk of injury to any of our key players.
Fingers crossed for a win and to maintaining the outside chance of qualifying for Europe through our league position as well as the FA Cup.