Ahead of their trip to Aston Villa on Monday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has praised the way his side reacted to defeat to the same opponents on the opening day of the season. A 3-1 reversal at the Emirates led to boos of derision from Arsenal fans, whose frustration spilled over from another summer without significant investment and fears of a further campaign without seriously challenging for major silverware.
Instead, on the back of the return to the club of Mathieu Flamini and the club-record signing of Mesut Ozil, Arsenal went on a 10-match winning run in all competitions that took them top of the Premier League and provided a springboard to progress to the Champions League knockout phase. Wenger believes the calm and positive response from the club to that opening defeat was pivotal.
“I looked at that game again this morning,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “I looked at the numbers and it was, of course, a big shock at the time.
“But, on the other hand, it was a good test for our mental solidity inside the club because nobody panicked. We gave a very swift and quick response when we went to Fenerbahce three days later and we have made a big way since then.
“And now we want to look in front of us and focus on what is coming. Waiting for us are big challenges.”
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With the chance to return back to the top of the Premier League with a victory at Villa Park, Wenger is now looking forward with greater bullishness about his side’s prospects to end a 10-year wait to lift the title. Certainly, it is now far more difficult for Arsenal to progress out of the limelight.
“It is harder to do because we have shown consistency,” he explained. “But we do not want to hide anyway, we want to fight for the title. Therefore we have to convince skeptical people but you do that only through the consistency of your performance and that is what we want to focus on.”
While Theo Walcott has been lost for the rest of the season through an injury suffered in the 2-0 FA Cup victory over Tottenham last week, Arsenal have been boosted by the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The midfielder returns to face the team against whom he suffered a knee injury in August. Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud also return to the squad, but Aaron Ramsey remains out with a thigh injury.
Aston Villa’s victory against Arsenal to kick off the campaign provided a sign of what was to come in terms of the side’s strong away form this season. The problem has been at Villa Park where there have been just two wins in the Premier League and none for more than two months, to leave the Midlands side just five points above the relegation zone as they look to avoid another scrap for survival. And coach Paul Lambert is determined to give the home fans something to cheer about on Monday.
"The crowd have been excellent for us,” he said, according to Aston Villa’s official website. “And tonight they'll get right behind us. We're at home and we have to try and rectify the home form. That goes without saying.
"It's been happening for about five years. But I'd love to give the home fans something to shout about. We have to go and try to do it this evening. It's our home ground. We have to go and try to win.”
Villa will welcome Ciaran Clark back from suspension, while Gabriel Agbonlahor has overcome a minor injury that kept him out of last week’s FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United. However, there are injury doubts over defenders Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League clash will kick off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.