Last time Aston Villa travelled to the red half of North London, it was opening day of the 2013-14 season. Villa gave up an early goal, and all the fans sighed "here we go again." However, two Christian Benteke goals led the comeback, and Tony Moon capped it off with a goal on a brilliant counter five minutes before time. Ahh, good times.
That was the only win over Arsenal since 2011, a year which Villa somehow did the double over the Gunners. It's time to stop living in the past though. Sunday's trip to the Emirates could be trickier than usual, due to the good form of Arsene Wenger's men. They've won all but three of their 14 matches (D1L2) since November 26th, and the recent win over Manchester City was particularly impressive. However, their star man Alexis Sánchez will miss this match with a hamstring injury.
Unfortunately for Paul Lambert and Villa, they have injury worries of their own. Ciaran Clark was hurt in training, suspiciously on the same day that Libor Kozák returned to training. Therefore, Nathan Baker will be back into the starting lineup, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering the aerial threat that Olivier Giroud carries. However, the partnership that Clark and Jores Okore have developed has been solid, and it's not ideal that it is broken up.
As we saw in the FA Cup win over Bournemouth, Aston Villa are in fact capable of scoring. Leandro Bacuna came into the side and offered a dimension we haven't really seen this year - someone combining with Alan Hutton's attacking runs on the right side. He may not get another chance to start, but that's because Scott Sinclair has just been brought in on loan. Carles Gil probably has secured a starting spot, and maybe Andi Weimann's performance in the cup match could see him get another chance.
Although, maybe a three (five) man midfield would be the best option. If Gil and Sinclair are the wide men, they will track back and help out during the defensive phase, which will be the majority of the time since Arsenal like to control the ball. A double pivot of Ashley Westwood and Carlos Sánchez with Fabian Delph ahead would provide good structure - after all, a point on the road would be a great result.
Assuming Theo Walcott comes in for the injured Alexis, he or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be in the lineup for Arsenal. This pace threat is a real worry, so having dedicated wide players will be necessary. Hutton and Aly Cissokho better be up to the task, or else this could be an area that makes the difference. At the other end, if Benteke can rediscover some form, it's a chance to take advantage of Arsenal's new central defender Gabriel Paulista, who could get the start.
Projected starting lineups:
Aston Villa (4-3-3) : Brad Guzan; Alan Hutton, Jores Okore, Nathan Baker, Aly Cissokho; Carlos Sánchez, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Carles Gil, Christian Benteke, Scott Sinclair.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Wojciech Szczesny; Calum Chambers, Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel Paulista, Kieran Gibbs; Mathieu Flamini, Tomás Rosicky; Theo Walcott, Oliver Giroud, Santi Cazorla.
Who do you think should start for Villa? Let us know in the comments!