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    Aston Villa





Villa Park, England

Attendance: 34607

* Local time based on your geographic location.

0 - 0


Watch Live on: ESPN(UK)

Gunners can add to Villa misery

The season began with Arsenal fans genuinely excited about their prospects. Unbeaten in the first five games, two goals conceded and an exciting new attacking trio of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud in the ranks.

Steve Bould's appointment to the coaching staff also had supporters hopeful that there was finally someone to challenge and shake-up Arsene Wenger's perceived complacency. It was a shame, then, when defeats to Chelsea, Manchester United and Norwich and a draw (just) with Fulham had to burst the bubble and put Arsenal back in their place.

Focus realigned, talk has returned to more realistic targets and last weekend's North London derby was billed as a battle for fourth place. That Arsenal came out on top, 5-2 winners against Tottenham, is signal enough that they can still be considered the fourth best team in the Premier League. But no real progress is being made. They are drifting backwards.

Wenger's admission this week that he would welcome the return of Thierry Henry in January, for a third spell at the club, is perhaps indicative of the club's state as a whole. They seem happy to settle for fourth best, content to wait for Financial Fair Play, always building for a future that never comes.

Despite the wider concerns about the club, Arsenal should have more than enough to see off Aston Villa - live on ESPN UK at 1730 GMT. That is because only QPR have picked up less points than Paul Lambert's side in the last eight matches.

It has not been an easy start to life in the midlands for the former Norwich manager. It could be argued things are at an all-time low, but then who is to say they will not get worse?

Defeats were expected against Manchester United and Manchester City in their last two fixtures, but the performance in both games has rightly caused questions to be asked. A two-goal lead was squandered against United and eventually ended in a 3-2 loss, while a 5-0 hammering at City was concerning because of the way Villa seemed to give up, conceding four times between the 54th and 74th minutes.

It is too early to assume that Lambert is the wrong man for Villa, in fact it looks like his calm, organised and rational characteristics are tailor-made for the role. He is realistic about the job in hand, but Villa's young side are in desperate need of fresh impetus, or at the very least some experience.

Shay Given and Darren Bent have fallen out of favour. Richard Dunne has been injured, and influential former captain Stiliyan Petrov remains a long-term absentee.

Seven of the XI that started against City were aged 23 or younger. All of which will give Wenger no reason to be anything but confidence in Arsenal gaining another win on the road to fourth place.

Arsenal player to watch: Wojciech Szczesny

A calming influence beyond his years the return of the Polish international goalkeeper will help to add some kind of consistency to the Arsenal backline. Thomas Vermaelen has not been the inspiring leader the club craves in defence, Per Mertesacker is improving but not dominant enough while Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs' injury-prone nature is typical of Arsenal's lightweight status. The onus falls on Szczesny to lead from the back, a requirement which the 22-year-old excelled at when earning the No. 1 shirt in the first place. Expect him to perform a crucial role in the coming weeks and reaffirm his status as one of the league's rising stars.

Aston Villa player to watch: Darren Bent

Aston Villa have scored one goal or less in 10 of their 12 Premier League fixtures so far yet the decision to freeze out Darren Bent, a man with proven goalscoring ability, continues with little justification. Lambert insists that behind the scenes there is nothing sinister going on but Bent, a former club captain, has not even been included in the last three matchday squads. Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann are full of promise, but they are a work in progress and Villa don't have the time for projects. Lambert has to swallow his pride and restore his best goalscoring threat to the first-team or continue to watch his side sink without trace.

Key battle: Brett Holman v Jack Wilshere

The 28-year-old Holman, this week named Australian footballer of the year, has been one of the few shining lights for Villa this season. The energetic midfielder has started eight Premier League games and cemented his spot in the team as a player typical of Lambert's required style – that of the hardworking and honest underdog. His battle with Arsenal's recently returned Jack Wilshere, himself a tenacious battler will be intriguing as the duo scrap it out for supremacy in the centre of the park. Wilshere netted against Montpellier in the Champions League midweek, and will be desperate to continue his integration back into the fold after missing 14 months through injury.

Trivia: Darren Bent has scored six goals in his last eight Premier League games against Arsenal and in his only FA Cup appearance against them last season for Villa.

Stats: Adding to the feeling that this is an away banker, Aston Villa have won none of their last 13 Premier League home games against Arsenal. Ominously the Villans have also won just two of their last 18 home games in the Premier League.

Odds: Aston Villa are an unlikely 5.00 to claim a much-needed win, the draw is 4.00 and an Arsenal victory is a much more palatable 1.66 with Bet365. Despite not even making the squad for the last three games Bent is still Villa's most likely scorer, at 9.00. The clever money is with Giroud though, who is sitting pretty at 6.00.

Prediction: Aston Villa don't look capable of earning a point at the moment, let alone three. Arsenal should be able to see this one out convincingly.

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