Tomorrow, Aston Villa head down to the capital city - London - to face Arsenal FC. Arsenal, perennial competitors in European football, are undergoing a period of transition after the resignation of long-time manager Arsene Wenger.
To get a better idea of Arsenal ahead of Villa’s clash with them tomorrow, we spoke to PDB of SBnation’s Arsenal site - The Short Fuse - to catch up. Our answers to their questions can be found here, while their Q&A with ourselves is below.
Q: There was a lot of positivity about Arsenal’s summer, but it appears to have gone a bit sour. Why do you think that is?
A: Because the Arsenal supporter base, at least the ones who are vocal online, will never be happy about anything.
At this point, Unai Emery could be on his way to manage an Arsenal game, notice a burning hospital, save everyone in it from the fire, put out the fire, keep the building from collapsing, rebuild it on the spot, then get to the stadium in the nick of time and lead Arsenal to a 5-0 win, and some Arsenal fans would complain that he used too much water to put out the fire.
But more seriously, there’s a growing sense that Emery is not the man for the job. He uses puzzling lineups that don’t seem to take advantage of positional advantages Arsenal may have, and his substitutions are bizarre. Last weekend against Watford, for instance, Arsenal were chasing a goal, and he withdrew attacking midfielder Dani Ceballos for a straight-up attacker in Joe Willock, despite the fact that Ceballos was pretty much creating all of Arsenal’s offense on the day. It made no sense, and that’s not the only time he’s done stuff like that.
I wouldn’t say Emery’s in over his head, but he’s a very conservative manager, and Arsenal need to be more aggressive at this point in their evolution. This is Emery’s final year of a two-year contract; there’s a club option for a third season, but if he doesn’t get Arsenal back to the Champions League one way or the other, he won’t see that third year.
I love David Luiz as a character, but I also see him as a potential weak link to target. Does that ring true so far and what other areas could Villa exploit?
I’m with you. David Luiz is fun to watch when you’re playing against him, or as a neutral, because you never know if he’s going to be brilliant or a chowderhead.
Sadly, as a player on the team I love, he’s not as fun to watch. I wasn’t necessarily against him joining the squad, because he was reasonably cheap and he’ll only be there for a season or two at the most, so hopefully he won’t decline that much further. We’ll see.
Does Emery have the qualities to get Arsenal competing as a top 4 team every season again?
See above. The short answer, for me, is...maybe? I mean, Arsenal were in decent shape to finish top four last season, but one win in their last five games - including a loss at Crystal Palace and a draw at Brighton - both ensured that Arsenal would not finish top four, but also instilled a lot of doubt about the job Emery has done and can do. Even during the 14 game unbeaten run near the start of last season, they flattered to deceive a bit - a lot of the results in that run were because of frantic second-half comebacks and not the product of overall dominance.
Emery was a good choice for a ‘rebound coach’ - the first coach after 22 years of Arsene Wenger was always going to have some huge shoes to fill, and in 10 years, when Arsenal have moved back into Europe’s top tier, Emery will be a footnote that we’ll all wonder why we all got so mad at.
It must hurt to see Spurs overtake Arsenal as the North London powerhouse. What do Arsenal need to do to restore their position?
Last season, Arsenal gave up 51 goals. Manchester City and Liverpool, combined, gave up 45. This season, so far (small sample size alert), Arsenal are on pace to give up 60 goals.
So yeah, I think defending might be an area where Arsenal could improve.
In terms of Villa, what is the Arsenal perspective of us being back in the Premier League and do you have any insights of how we might get on?
Trips to Villa Park are always fun - I promise you that this is genuine and not condescending, but there’s something special about going to older stadia with so much history, even if Villa’s recent history was outside the top flight.
I think if Villa can cultivate the ability to keep a tight defensive shape and take advantage of John McGinn’s box-to-box destroyer ability, Villa should have enough to survive and build towards climbing up the table in the next couple seasons.
Are you concerned about the possible negative effect of the Europa League campaign?
This year, not as much as last. This year’s furthest trip in the group stage was to Frankfurt, which was on Thursday; The rest of the group stage is trips to Belgium and Portugal. By contrast, last year Arsenal went to Kiev and Azerbaijan in the group stages, and reportedly back to Baku for the final, but I’m not quite sure that happened, I think it was cancelled or something.
It’s never ideal to play Thursday-Sunday-Thursday, but in terms of wear and tear, anyway, Arsenal should fare much better this season.
We know a lot about Aubameyang and Lacazette (who I think is injured) but who else should Villa fans be wary of this weekend?
Nicolas Pepe is Arsenal’s record signing. He’s a speedy winger who should score a bunch, although he’s yet to get started scoring as of now. I’m not worried, though, he’s got bags of talent and he’s only 24, so he has time to become the scoring force we think he will. Dani Ceballos is one to watch out on the wing, as well, assuming that Emery starts him, which he should.
How will Arsenal line up on Sunday?
As you mention, Laca is still unavailable, but otherwise it should be a fairly full-strength squad; the bench leans towards youth, but the starters should be along the lines of: