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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Aston Villa (a) preview

If it's as cold in Birmingham as it is here in the South East then Arsenal's players will have no choice but to put in a lot of effort today. If they don't run around and get involved then hypothermia might just set in. I have a ticket for Dover Athletic's second-round FA Cup tie with Aldershot, so it's the pub just down the road from Dover's ground for the Arsenal game for me.

We knew that Fabregas and Eboue are both out of the match this afternoon. I would have expected Sagna to replace Eboue in any case. As I said Thursday I am not sure the absence of the skipper will be all that important on recent form. I would expect Nasri to move in to the middle and replace Cesc behind the main striker. There are some interesting selections for the Manager in other areas though.
The press are saying that Manuel Almunia is fit to play. This surprises me as the Spaniard played only the first-half of the Reserves match in midweek. I doubt he is really fit, so I don't think there is much chance that Fabianski will be dropped. To be honest, I don't see Almunia replacing either of the Polish goalkeepers, even when he does regain fitness.
In the centre of defence there is a choice to make between the ineffective Koscielny and the in-form Johan Djourou. I would far rather Djourou plays, especially as Carew is apparently ready to play for the opposition. Clichy may have recovered from his back problem, but I can't for the life of me understand why he would get in ahead of Gibbs. However, Gael is a Wenger favourite so I fully expect him to start if fit.
Denilson or Wilshere? With Alex Song certain to return to the starting XI it is a straight shoot out between the two. Wilshere has looked jaded in recent weeks, but he brings so much more to the side than the Brazilian. However, I would not be surprised to see Denilson play - he has a goalscoring pedigree at Villa Park so he could be a logical choice in a "horses for courses" kind of way. Out wide we can be sure that Arshavin will return - the weather should certainly suit him. But what of the other side of the pitch? Rosicky would be the favourite to play for me, but he completed 90 minutes on Tuesday. Theo Walcott is the other obvious option, but he is looking a bit more like the Theo we really know on the evidence of the past few weeks. This is where I would throw Villa a bit of a curve-ball. I would play Robin Van Persie off the right side of the pitch, where he used to line up for Holland a few years back. There is no point, for me, in putting him up against Dunn and Collins in the middle - he will win no kind of physical battle against those two, whereas Chamakh could dominate either or both of them. I doubt Wenger would do that, and it's more likely that RVP would play up front with Chamakh missing out, should he choose to select the Dutchman.
I'm not going to guess at a line-up today as there are just too many variables, and nobody can begin to know what Arsene is thinking these days. What I do know is that a win is crucial. Normally I would be happy with a point from a trip to Villa but, following two defeats, nothing less than three points is good enough today. With Villa missing the outstanding Albrighton, and possibly Agbonlahor, they have less attacking options, but Arsenal will still have to deal with the pace of Young and the physicality of Carew - a man we have never got to grips with through his career. To do so they will need organisation and defensive discipline, so don't go holding your breath.

I'll review the match tomorrow afternoon.

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