So...Arsenal. Are we Aston Villa supporters meant to be full of hope? It's hard to feel that way after last week's horrible 5-0 defeat at Manchester City. But if we separate the name from the actual club, the sense of forbidding might go down a bit.
Sure, the Gunners beat Tottenham Hotspur last week, an impressive 5-2 victory in the North London Derby. But who knows what might have happened had Emmanuel Adebayor, the first goalscorer, not been sent off in the 18th minute. That gave Arsenal an awful lot of time to run riot over 10-man Spurs.
Looking at the Fulham match, two weeks ago, might bring a bit more comfort. You remember that one? That's when Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead by the 23rd minute. But Dimitar Berbatov and Alexander Kacaniklic had leveled by halftime, and the ultimate result was a 3-3 draw.
This is an Arsenal of ups and downs, a squad that has managed to not score in three matches, and score just once in three others. But then there's the other side of the coin -- last week's match, the 3-1 over West Ham United, and the 6-1 over Southampton. The Arsenal we're looking for is the one that's shown up in their defeat to Norwich, or against Manchester United. We'll even take the one against Queens Park Rangers, in which the Gunners barely edged a win.
What the Villa must do in this match is put aside the horrors of last weekend. The side -- the attack, at least -- managed to look bright even against the dogged Sunderland, and were fantastic against United. Although Darren Bent is fit again, it's unlikely he'll start, and he shouldn't. The promising front three, Gabby Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann, deserve another chance to prove their worth, as do Barry Bannan and Stephen Ireland behind.
Pressuring Arsenal is going to disarm them much more quickly than sitting back and trying to defend -- not that this is a route Paul Lambert chooses very often. But even a shift to two up front, and a more holding midfield, could trip up the Villa, not giving them enough opportunities to make the visitors' lives hell.
Of course, the concern remains the defense. Eric Lichaj is healthy again, but do we really think he deserves to replace Enda Stevens in the back? Either way, there's going to be a weakness on the left, exploitable by a wide number of Arsenal players, depending on which names Arsene Wenger pulls out of a hat. And there's always that fear of set-pieces, a common occurrence when our defense panics. The Gunners aren't the best at them, but Giroud's a threat, as is Per Mertesacker.
Ok, I don't think I'm actually being reassuring by writing this preview. Get out the whisky and settle in for a nervy 90 minutes.