Eking out a point against Southampton last Saturday gave Aston Villa a little more substance in the league table, but they still languish at the basement of England's top flight. Six points --as many as Villa have collected all season so far-- adrift of 19th place Sunderland, it doesn't get easier for Rémi Garde's men this weekend as they host Arsenal on Sunday.
Villa haven't won since opening day, and it's unlikely a win will be on the cards against the second place team this weekend. However, there are a few reasons to believe that the Birmingham side could manage to come away with a point.
Arsenal have a ton of injuries. They'll be missing Alexis Sánchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, as well as a few others. While Robert and I agreed that Arsenal's second team could probably beat Villa's first on yesterday's Holtecast, it's still a major boost to see so many key players ruled out for the opposition.
Secondly, it seems that Villa have an affinity for stealing a point against better teams lately. Taking a draw from the Manchester City and Southampton fixtures is certainly impressive, and maybe it could be done again. Additionally, Arsenal were held by Norwich City on the 29th of November.
While a fair bit of luck went into the two draws Garde's side has managed in their most recent five games, the team still needs to improve on the pitch. One thing that seems like a simple switch would be dropping Rudy Gestede from the first team, and inserting Libor Kozák. He scored twice the other day, and even though it was in a U21 game, both of the goals he netted were virtually impossible to save.
Jack Grealish is also back to being available for selection, but he might not be the sparkplug required in this type of a match. Overextend against Arsenal, and you may be picked apart and find yourself down 3-0 within half an hour. Steel will be required in the middle of midfield, meaning a switch back to the 4-4-2 Diamond might make for a good choice.
Carlos Sánchez had some good tackles against Saints, but continues to be a liability when passing the ball. With Jordan Veretout and Idrissa Gana deployed closer to him, there will be more outlets readily available to the Colombian to lay the ball off to.
Atop the diamond is the perfect place for Carles Gil. His creativity is much-needed, and when he tires around the 60 minute mark it's the perfect opportunity to replace him with Grealish. In front of him should be Kozák and Jordan Ayew.
Ayew has been one of the best players to wear the shirt in the past few weeks. Although it may not be saying a lot, he's one of the most potent players available, showing the quality to come up with a goal out of nothing. Being paired with a target man skilled with both his head and his feet may provide an opportunity for more of these chances to arise.
Defensively, it quite frankly is tragic that Micah Richards will miss out. But, it means we get to see Jores Okore get another opportunity in the centre of defence. Joleon Lescott will probably retain his place as well, after contributing with a goal from a set piece last weekend. Alan Hutton won't be displaced from his position at right back, and after picking up a knock against Southampton, Leandro Bacuna may not be fit to start again on the left. Yay, Kieran Richardson!
Olivier Giroud singlehandedly carried Arsène Wenger's team into the knockout stages of the Champions League, and is a dangerous striker that's given Villa problems in the past. Even with their rash of injuries, they have world-class players like Mesut Özil that should propel them to an easy victory. It's hard to see a win for Villa in this one, but if the midfield can mitigate the passing ability of Arsenal, it's certainly possible.
Petr Čech; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Joel Campbell; Olivier Giroud.
Aston Villa (4<4>2):
Brad Guzan; Alan Hutton, Jores Okore, Joleon Lescott, Kieran Richardson; Carlos Sánchez, Jordan Veretout, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Carles Gil; Libor Kozák, Jordan Ayew.
Who would you play if you were Rémi Garde? Let us know in the comments!