From the Ridiculous to the Sublime: Arsenal to Bounce Back at Villa (plus predicted line-up)

The Arsenal team bus returning from Wolves in midweek

There was a gut-punchingly high degree of ridiculousness about our defeat at Wolves on Tuesday night.

Another red card for David Luiz, albeit for the tiniest accidental contact with a Wolves player; the subsequent ‘double jeopardy’ of both a penalty and a red card; Bernd Leno’s brain fart; Moutinho scoring a once-a-season screamer… well, you know the story.

Today I expect us to get back to winning ways at Aston Villa.

And yes, I know they gave us a sound thrashing when they visited the Emirates earlier in the season, but we were a different team then and so were they.

Since that defeat we have found a new formation, new personnel and we have disinfected the training ground to remove the stale smell of mouldering, unwanted players.

The Villans, meanwhile, have struggled for wins since Christmas. They’ve won just two out of seven and have lost to West Ham, Burnley and the two Manc clubs.

There’s no doubt they are a good team and have some excellent players. At the start of the season I had them down as one of my ‘dark horse’ tips for a potential top four finish. Now they’re one point above us, although they have two games in hand following Covid-related disruption to their fixtures.

Ollie Watkins remains their top scorer (nine goals in the league), but they also pose a scoring threat from midfield with Grealish, Barkley and El Ghazi, who have 14 between them.

But enough about the opposition. What about the Mighty Arse? For almost all the first half at Wolves we played the best football we’ve seen all season. Our forward movement was outstanding, we were solid at the back and the Partey-Xhaka axis in midfield was in complete control. We should perhaps have been two or three up by the time the penalty and red card derailed us. Even with 10 men I think we might have won, but Leno’s mad moment put paid to any hope of that.

The question is, can the players put the freakishness of what happened next out of their minds, write it off as ‘one of those things’ and bounce back to winning ways? I don’t see why not. If I was in their boots I’d feel as if I had been cheated out of three points and would want to make amends as soon as possible.

As part of the fall-out of the Molineux clown show, Leno and Luiz are both unavailable today (serving one-game bans). I know many fans will be unperturbed by the absence of Luiz given his propensity for triggering cataclysmic events (even if he sometimes seems unlucky) but his defensive work has been generally good this season. However, we have good strength-in-depth at CB with Mari and Gabriel.

Missing Leno could be a bigger headache, with our new goalkeeping loanee Mat Ryan having also been out crocked. It could mean another start for Runnarson, who has had a variable beginning to his Arsenal career. He has made some terrible clangers but also seems to be a good shot stopper. It hardly fills this observer with confidence but if he’s going to be the man between the sticks he deserves our full support and best wishes. And the fact that I might previously have suggested we call him Runnarsaurus and make him our new mascot is neither here nor there.

Ryan has been back in training so it’s possible the Aussie will make his Arsenal debut instead if deemed fit enough. Let’s hope our FA Cup hero, Martinez, does not have a blinder for the Villa.

Elsewhere Mari is available again and Kieran Tierney is the only player still in the sick bay. I am glad the club is not rushing back our talismanic fullback – he’s so precious that he probably gets stalked by Gollum.

There are selection headaches for Mikel Arteta up front, with Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe, Martinelli and Lacazette all available, not to mention Nketiah. Pepe was continuing his good recent form in the Wolves game until the red card and scored a terrific goal. He seems to enjoy playing on the left better than the right.

Cedric, meanwhile, has quelled many supporters’ doubts about him and proven to be a solid back-up at either right or left fullback.

Here’s the starting eleven I’m expecting:


Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Smith Rowe – Pepe


Essentially I think (and hope) that El Patron will stick with what’s been working, keeping Pepe and Saka in the wide roles and letting Smith Rowe pull the strings. Partey and Xhaka should be capable of resisting Villa’s dangerous midfield.

We have a full week before our next game so there’s no need to worry about over-playing some of the squad.

This game won’t be easy – Villa are too talented to be a pushover. But if we can get our groove going I fancy that our forward line has more than enough talent and confidence to breach their defence at least twice.

Come on You Gunners.



45 Responses to From the Ridiculous to the Sublime: Arsenal to Bounce Back at Villa (plus predicted line-up)

  1. TotalArsenal says:

    Rocky, great preview and fully agreed with the lineup (if I can be picky, you need swap Xhaka and Granit – left foot on the left, right foot on the right).

    This will be a big challenge for us and let’s hope that we can make our advantage count this time.

  2. RockyLives says:

    Thanks TA

    I always get muddled up putting in the positions upside down, as it were.

    You are, of course, correct regarding Xhaka and Partey.

  3. RockyLives says:

    Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric
    Partey – Xhaka
    Saka – Smith Rowe – Pepe

    11 out of 11, if you’ll forgive my hedging my bets with the GK.

  4. RockyLives says:

    Ceballos, Elneny, Odegaard, Willian, Auba, Martinelli, Chambers, Mari, Runarsson

  5. RockyLives says:

    Best of luck to Mat Ryan (boyhood Arsenal fan) on his debut for the greatest team in the world.

  6. LB says:

    11 out of 11, impressive.

  7. Rasp says:

    Spot on Rocky, Mikel listens to you 😅

  8. RC78 says:

    Seems Mat Ryan is very slow…we re already one nil down, courtesy of Watkins. 2 mins played

  9. RockyLives says:

    Ryan unlucky – he had the shot covered but it took a big deflection off Holding

  10. LB says:

    Not a lot of sublime but plenty of ridiculous.

  11. RockyLives says:

    The real cock up was between Cedric and Gabriel. Ced made a sloppy, underhit pass but he clearly thought Gabriel was coming towards the ball – instead he backed off.

    A consequence of the repeated enforced changes at the back.

  12. RockyLives says:

    Cedric’s having a mare so far.

  13. RockyLives says:

    Was it Arteta who said that we tend not to get beaten by the opposition these days, we beat ourselves

  14. RockyLives says:

    Very poor start all over the pitch. We seem half asleep.

  15. RC78 says:

    Partey is totally missing, ESR trying

    Our best players so far are Holding, Xhaka and Pepe

  16. RC78 says:

    Ryan, Gabriel, Cedric, Partey having a rough half

    Bellerin, Lacazette, Saka trying but not succeeding so far

  17. RC78 says:

    If anything, I would maybe take Partey or ESR off and bring in Ceba or Willian in.

  18. RockyLives says:

    What has Ryan done wrong?

  19. Sue says:

    Every time I swap shifts at work so I can watch the match we’re rubbish!!!
    And that kit, I’m beginning to dislike it as much the green one a few seasons back…. and we were mostly rubbish in it!!

    Come on, another loss – and double done over us – is too much to take!!!

  20. RockyLives says:

    They really need a rocket at HT.

  21. RockyLives says:

    Too much sloppiness. Too many players not putting in the required effort.

    Some of our long passing and dead ball taking has been awful.

    Pepe keeps getting into good positions then unfailingly taking the wrong decision. I’d hook him for Auba or Martinelli.

  22. RockyLives says:

    And final part of rant: the rotational fouling on Saka has been a disgrace (and very deliberate). The ref has been way too weak in dealing with it.

  23. RA says:

    I just got on to AA as the game was about to start, and had time to read your fab Post, Rocky –unfortunately, I had just finished reading with a big smile on my fizzog, which rapidly disappeared when I saw Cedric manage to baby a pass to Gabriel and the ball was lost leading to a deflected goal for Villa.

    Nothing seems to be going right for us at the moment.

  24. LB says:

    I must be watching a different Partey to others.

  25. Gööner In Exile says:

    I thought we got better as the half wore on, hopefully the ref will crack down on the i fouling of Saka. Clearly JT learned that under Mourinho, thankfully Saka has kept going. And ESR is quick enough to pass and move before contact.

    We were close on a few occasions, so not too worried.

    Most of the pundits seem to be blaming Cedric, but I agree more with Rocky, Gabriel passed and took a step forward, Cedric played it where he thought Gabriel was heading and although it wasn’t the best lay off, Gabriel would have at least been closer if he had continued his run, Cedric in my mind was trying to do the right thing, playing it on to Gabriel’s left foot for him to play a longer pass. Even if he’s played the pass correctly Gabriel wouldn’t have been where he should be. If Gabriel didn’t want the ball back why didn’t he just clear it?

  26. Rasp says:

    Why couldn’t we start that game the way we ended it. Odegaard looks like an exciting prospect

  27. Rasp says:

    Tyrone Mings was the reason we didn’t score

  28. RockyLives says:

    Mings was outstanding but we were pretty poor overall.

    Honourable exceptions were Saka, ESR and Ryan

  29. RockyLives says:

    I heard a rumour that Aubameyang came on, but I’m filing it away with the Bigfoot and UFO sightings

  30. RA says:

    I thought I saw Aubameyang come on as a substitute.

    What happened? Did he get re-substituted after one second, when I blinked?

    I think the new GK, Ryan, played well.

    In the new age where all clubs need trophies and want players and managers who can produce the goods – the successful clubs will be ruthless and get rid of players and managers who are just mid-table fodder.

    Mikel is sailing very close to the wind – and altho I do not want anyone treated badly – I am beginning to think he is little different from Emery.

  31. Sue says:

    Willock just scored for Newcastle – you couldn’t make it up

  32. LBG says:

    Once again our experienced, great leaders…. Xhaka, Bellerin, Willian, Aubameyang, Lacazette …lend their drive and commitment to youthful vigour and show us the way. And we didnt even have Luiz on the field to blame!!

  33. Gööner In Exile says:

    PEA will never be a number 9. Against a packed defence I was thinking we’d be better just leaving Gabriel or Holding up front. At least we could have tried a few high balls instead of trying to do it all on the ground.

    Very few come out of that game unscathed, Hector, Saka, ESR, Partey (who I thought had a good game contrary to others here), Xhaka, the only ones really trying to force it in the attacking third with any real purpose. Saka continued to link up with ESR even when asked to play left back, Odergard linked up well with them on occasion and I could see an attacking three of them and Laca going forward.

  34. Aaron says:

    So, late to the “Partey” due to the game being too early for me today.

    Revising my goals for the season.

    Top 12, not get smoked in EL to Benfica, heard it will be a one off due to covid travel restrictions.

    Do not want to see Luiz and Willian play another game for us. (Saw the replays on the Luiz call, and he ran across the Wolves player, straight penalty, but no red, however he still cost us the game)

    One step forward 3 steps back with this club…..

  35. RC78 says:

    Positives: Ryan (after a slow start), Holding, Xhaka, Saka,
    Neutral: Partey, Pepe, ESR, Laca
    Negatives: Cedric, Gabriel, Partey’s injury, Auba’s entrance, Willock scoring at Newcastle

  36. RC78 says:

    Also, I think we should really consider Memphis Depay from Lyon and former Man Utd. He has really matured as a player, he will be free at the end of the year. He could be a great addition to our team because he can play 9 and false 9. Shall he come and I am not saying this lightly, we could let Laca go. We d still need to get an OG type of player though.

  37. RockyLives says:

    I quite liked Depay when he was at ManU.

    But I agree we need a ‘plan b’ striker.

  38. RC78 says:

    What do you make of Patrick Bamford? I was surprised we didn’t for for A. Milik…He s now at Marseille and comes the end of the season, he may be allowed to go…

  39. RC78 says:

    I think I ll do a post on Lukas Podolski in the coming days. What do you think Rocky? 19 goals, 11 assists in 60 appearances. Worth a post?

  40. Sue says:

    Poldi… yes please!! With a couple of topless pictures too, RC? 😆

  41. RC78 says:

    For you @Sue, anything 😛

  42. RockyLives says:

    Great idea RC – a much underrated player but still became a cult hero.

    I’ve done a match report for tomorrow.

  43. Sue says:

    RC.. 🙂 thank you!!

  44. RC78 says:

    Hi Rocky – sorry I just saw your message 😦 Please add your match report to the new post

  45. Gööner In Exile says:

    I am beginning to wonder how much of today’s performance could be attributed to Tuesday night? Most of today’s starting XI had to play as 9 men on Tuesday night, and by consequence had to do a lot of running.

    Some random observations….

    Pepe…he seems to so often be stationary when he receives the ball. By the time he is ready to start a run a defender is on him. He really needs for the PL to be receiving the ball while on the move.

    Thought Xhaka and Partey controlled the central area well.

    Laca looked tired but there really is no alternative to him as Number 9 this worries me more than any other position at the club.

    I did like the fact that Arteta put more and more attacking players on the pitch chasing the game, but unfortunately it just got a bit too crowded. As I said earlier I think I would have just stuck Gabriel or Holding up top for the final 10 minutes.

    Ref decisions, I thought quite a few 50:50 decisions went against us today. Martinez could have been penalised for dragging Laca down in the box he had a good handful of shirt. And there were a few others that went Villas way that could have easily been fouls bu them. Partey yellow card was harsh. Villa rotationally kicked Saka but he didn’t suffer.

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