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A Cultured Left Foot on Arsenal's title chances and former Gunner Remi Garde

After a huge victory midweek in the Champions League, Arsenal will be looking forward to what should be a nice stroll in the park against Villa.

I know, Tim. I feel the same way.
I know, Tim. I feel the same way.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Aston Villa haven't been good at all in the past few years, but they really haven't been good against Arsenal in recent memory. Ever since that memorable opening day win over the Gunners in 2013, Villa haven't even come close to making Arsenal break a sweat, and I don't think anyone expects that to change on Sunday. Still, it's not impossible to think we might snag a point from the match if we can repeat our performance against Man City. To see what's going on in the opposition's dressing room, we chatted with Stuart from the Arsenal blog A Cultured Left Foot.

Not to toot my own horn, but I picked Arsenal to win the Premier League back in preseason, and right now that's looking like a pretty good choice. What do you think, is this the year the drought ends?

Stuart: It depends on whether Arsène invests in the January window. Francis Coquelin's injury is a huge blow but the lack of depth to cover this was avoidable. We should have acted in the summer; God knows we had the money.

The question is whether Wenger believes Flamini can stay fit for the duration and if he thinks Chambers is ready to play in the defensive midfield role, should the worst happen. It seems that pair with Arteta, are very much short-term solutions and we need a longer-term view.

As the squad stands - or limps at the moment - it's hard to see Arsenal lasting the course but it's the title no-one seems to want to win so anything is possible. At some point, one of the top four, probably City, will hit form. The question is whether Arsenal can keep pace when it happens.

Arsenal also just got through to the next round of the Champions League, after digging themselves out of a bit of a hole in the group stage. What's a bigger priority, the Champions League or the Premier League? If you could win just one, which would it be?

Stuart: I think for any club, being domestic champions is always the priority. It's why clubs at that level primarily exist. The Champions League is the icing on the cake. I think regularly winning the title then brings the expectation that you will move to the next level and be a contender, and eventually win, European trophies. It seems like a progression.

For me winning the Champions League remains the last footballing quest at club level. It would mean they've won all domestic and European trophies in my lifetime which would be a fantastic achievement.

Arsenal's suffered a few key injuries recently, with Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin all out of action. But they've also welcomed back Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Which player will Arsenal miss the most in the coming months, and which player returning from injury will make the most impact?

Stuart: Francis Coquelin without doubt will be the player we most miss. Ramsey and Flamini were excellent in Greece but the defensive discipline Coquelin brings is sorely missed. He offers the back four a lot of protection which is being missed. Flamini likes to unleash his inner Alex Song and support the attack when Coquelin would sit back.

Players coming back is interesting. Alexis is the obvious name but Jack Wilshere offers the chance to move Ramsey back to Wenger's preferred position for the Welshman, on the right side and into the freer role he 'enjoys' there. It would give us an added level of intricacy in prompting attacks, a bit of variety in the way we play.

Should we expect Arsenal to be big spenders during the January transfer window? Are there any particular positions that need to be addressed?

Stuart: Defensive midfield is the highest priority; a genuine must. If that position is filled, we might go on to challenge for trophies.

Theo Walcott's return to fitness means a new striker is unlikely, and Welbeck returning in the New Year as well offers a wider attacking alternative.

I suppose that if Debuchy goes, we might look at defensive cover but my biggest concern is that Arsène gets lulled into a false sense security by a series of good performances in the next two months, and doesn't sign anyone.

You may have to stretch a bit for this next one: If you could have a single Aston Villa player for Arsenal, (even just to sit on the bench), who would it be?

Stuart: A tough one and one that's slightly embarrassing to answer, mainly because of my shameful lack of knowledge about the Villa squad.

There's a lot of hype around Grealish who seems genuinely talented but determined to have a good time whilst Adama Traore looks promising but beyond that, I'm genuinely struggling.

There's also a little side-plot this weekend that might be interesting: Remi Garde not only played for Arsenal, but was actually recommended to the Gunners by Arsene Wenger in 1996, just before Wenger joined on as the manager. Do you have any memories of Garde as a player? How do you think the Arsenal fans will react to his presence on the opposite bench?

Stuart: No, not many memories of him to be honest. He was on the periphery of the early years of Wenger's reign. We had a few squad members like him: Grimandi, Wreh, players you might not necessarily think of as Arsenal quality but who came in and did an unobtrusively good job when they were needed. Let's put it this way, he's remembered more fondly than some of Wenger's other signings of that time, and since to be fair.

Some see the Villa job as a showcase for his talents, viewing him as a potential replacement when Arsène retires. Plus he didn't flounce out of the club, wasn't stroppy or anything like that do I'd be surprised if there's any ounce of hostility toward him.

After beating Arsenal on the opening day two seasons ago, Villa haven't exactly found much success against the Gunners. I don't know if you remember the last time we met, but it... it wasn't a fun day for us. I'll consider this match a win if we a) don't get embarrassed or b) actually score a goal vs. Arsenal. If we do both I'll celebrate like we won the league. Is there any chance that Arsenal may overlook a terribly weak Villa side, coming off a big Champions League win mid-week and with a key match against Man City looming next weekend? That's really the best Villa can hope for.

Stuart: It was a great day at Wembley, from our point of view. I have some sympathy because losing any final hurts but being in the receiving end of a good grubbing can't have been nice, even if there was an admiration for the way Arsenal played. Which I'm sure there wasn't much of at the time.

It's a shame for Villa that this game isn't in November - you'd have been in with a decent shout. Qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions League should give us a massive boost, particularly the way we played. We weren't great against Sunderland, Norwich and Albion so we have a ricket in us but we do like playing Villa, don't we?

You certainly do. Our thanks to Stuart again, be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @Yogis_Warrior.