Arsenal come into Saturday’s Premier League clash with Aston Villa after one of the most tumultuous weeks in their recent history. The club has been the subject of growing criticism from both its fans and the media in recent seasons as a tight budget has seen Arsene Wenger fail to replicate his early years in charge of the Gunners.
But Arsenal’s decline appeared to reach to a new low in the past seven days. Some of the squad’s fringe players were again nakedly exposed in losing at home to Championship side Blackburn in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Just a few days later it became painfully evident to even Wenger himself just how far even his near strongest lineup was from Europe’s best teams in an utter outclassing by Bayern Munich.
The club’s eight-year trophy drought is all-but certain to be extended once more and even the symbolic silverware of qualifying for the Champions League is in huge jeopardy. Arsenal are currently four points behind fourth-place Tottenham and it is understandable that Wenger is eager to turn attention toward the match with Villa.
“On the inside [of the Club], there has been disappointment because we lost a big home game and every time you lose a big game there is massive disappointment,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website.
“I will not come out with my feelings, that's not my job. What is important for me is to focus on the next game and try to give my best, like all the players.”
Wenger will be without Bacary Sagna, after the French defender suffered a knee injury in the 3-1 reverse to Bayern Munich. Left-back Kieran Gibbs remains on the sidelines, but Nacho Monreal returns after being cup-tied in midweek.
Arsenal’s struggles ahead of the match have taken much of the focus off of Aston Villa, who remain deep in relegation trouble. Yet there is reason for optimism for Paul Lambert’s side having climbed out of the drop zone after ending a run of eight league matches without a win with a 2-1 victory over West Ham two weeks ago.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and Karim El Ahmadi return to the squad after illness, while Charles N’Zogbia has overcome a thigh problem.
D: Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Monreal
M: Wilshere, Arteta
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
Aston Villa (probable)
D: Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker
M: Delph, Westwood
Weimann, N’Zogbia, Agbonlahor
Prediction: The atmosphere cannot be great around the Arsenal squad right now, but the players will likely be glad to have a match so soon in order to try and put the defeat by Bayern behind them. But the meeting with Villa sees two sides that appear extremely mentally frail and the first goal could well be all important.
Villa will likely try to keep things tight, but you have to go back to early December to find the last time they kept a clean sheet and Arsenal should go on to get a fairly comfortable win.
Arsenal 3-1 Aston Villa
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League last will kick-off from the Emirates at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Soccer Plus, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.