Arsenal will be hopeful of putting more pressure on the two teams directly above them in the table by taking all three points when they host struggling Aston Villa at the Emirates on Sunday (13:30 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
The Gunners come into the match on the back of a strong run of form that has seen them win eight and lose just one of their last 10 matches in all competitions. They are fifth in the Premier League table, with 39 points from 11 wins, six draws and five defeats.
Arsene Wenger’s side got off to quick start in defeating Brighton in the fourth round of the FA Cup last weekend. Theo Walcott (pictured) put them ahead in the 2nd minute, before Mesut Ozil latched onto a lovely pass from Tomas Rosicky to double their lead inside 25 minutes. Rosicky scored Arsenal’s third with a superb volley, in between two goals from their hosts.
It was a performance far more akin to those that we usually expect from Arsenal, one that showcased the intricate interchanges and off-ball movement that had been temporarily sidelined to make way for a more disciplined defensive shape in their 2-0 victory away to Manchester City the week before. Ozil, Rosicky and Walcott were particularly bright.
While Arsenal were themselves kept at bay in defeat to Southampton on New Year’s Day, they have otherwise scored in 20 of their other 21 league matches so far this season, and have the third-best scoring record in the division. With what is the joint fifth-best defensive record, they will be confident of making the top four come season end.
Wenger will definitely be without the injured Abou Diaby (calf), Danny Welbeck (thigh), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) and Mikel Arteta (ankle) for this match, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) and Alexis Sanchez (hamstring) are both doubtful. New signing Gabriel Paulista will go straight into the squad.
Aston Villa travel south on the back of a seven-match winless run in league play that has seen them drop down to within three points of the bottom three. They are 15th in the Premier League table, with 22 points from five wins, seven draws and 10 defeats.
Paul Lambert’s side were at least able to provide a minor boost to their morale by progressing to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 2-1 victory at home to Championship leaders Bournemouth last weekend. Their visitors had the better of the opening 45 minutes but second-half goals from Andreas Weimann and new signing Carlos Gil led Villa to victory.
It was only the third time this season that Lambert side’s had scored more than once in a match, which illustrates the major problems they have had in front of goal. Villa have scored an average of a goal every two matches so far this season – comfortably the worst record in the division. They have failed to score in each of their last five league fixtures.
The purchase of Gil should inject a little more creativity into their attack but there is only so much one, largely unproven, player can do to boost their overall scoring rate. Villa do at least have a pretty solid defensive record – the joint fifth-best in the division – but that is unlikely to be enough to keep them away from the relegation places.
Lambert will definitely be without the injured Libor Kozak (broken leg) and Ron Vlaar (knee) for the trip to the Emirates, while Joe Cole (hamstring) and Philippe Senderos (calf) are major doubts. Fabian Delph (achilles), Gabriel Agbonlahor (hamstring) and Leandro Bacuna (knock) are all expected to recover in time to take part.
Arsenal v Aston Villa Betting Tips
Arsenal were comfortable 3-0 victors when these sides met at Villa Park earlier this season, with three goals in the space of six first-half minutes putting the match to bed. Arsenal have won four of the last six league meetings at all venues, but the spoils have been more evenly shared in matches at the Emirates, with three victories apiece in the last six matches there.
Arsenal have scored at least once in each and every one of their 16 home matches in all competitions this season and while Villa will clearly look to sit back and make things difficult for them, they will be confident of extending that run to 17 on Sunday. With Ozil and Walcott back in action, Wenger now has a good variety of attacking options.
Villa have taken just three points from their last seven league matches and are in serious danger of being dragged into the relegation battle. They have lost six of their 11 away matches to date, scoring just four times in the process, and were soundly beaten by Arsenal at home earlier this season. Arsenal look the clear favourites for victory.
- Back Arsenal -1.5 on the Asian Handicap @ best odds of 4/5 with BetVictor.
- Arsenal struggled to score early goals at the start of the season but seem to have found their rhythm in recent weeks, scoring inside the opening half hour in four of their last five matches. Villa have conceded four early goals on their travels. Back the time of the first Arsenal goal to be under 30 minutes @ evens with BetVictor.