Aston Villa’s season continues with a clash against table-toppers Arsenal on Saturday evening at Villa Park, in a match that pits two of the most in-form teams in the Premier League against each other. Villa have won four of their last six games and the visitors have triumphed in five games over the same period.
Last time out, of course, Unai Emery’s hosts leapfrogged last season’s treble-winners Manchester City on Wednesday evening with a fully-deserved victory over Pep Guardiola’s side courtesy of a second-half strike from Leon Bailey to move up to third in the league, just four points shy of Saturday’s opponents. Villa’s triumph over the Citizens was a 1-0 battering as the Claret and Blues had 22 shots to City’s two and had several opportunities to make the scoreline even more convincing.
Wednesday night’s win was also Villa’s 14th home win in a row, which equals a club record for consecutive Villa Park victories that was achieved twice in 1902-03 and 1930-31. This current home winning streak began after Villa were beaten by Saturday’s visitors 4-2 back in February in a match in which Villa should have taken something from having led twice in the game. The upcoming match gives Villa and Emery the chance to gain revenge for that defeat whilst also consolidating their position in the top four.
Villa are playing with immense confidence at home currently, and that was typified by the way they suffocated City on Wednesday night by only allowing them to have two attempts on goal across the entire match. Emery’s side will be optimistic that they can produce a second-successive statement performance when the Gunners come to town.
The Spaniard spent 18 largely unhappy months in the Arsenal hot seat and will be hoping to get one over on his old team and post a record-breaking 15th straight home win in the process. Should the hosts beat Arsenal at Villa Park for the third time in six seasons then they will be only a point behind them and could even jump into second place, depending on Liverpool’s result at Selhurst Park earlier on Saturday.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal enjoyed a fine midweek victory of their own, as they came from 3-2 down to clinch a 4-3 win over Luton Town at Kenilworth Road via a 97th-minute Declan Rice header. The three points was the Gunners’ fourth maximum-points haul on the road in their last six encounters and they have the chance to consolidate their position as league leaders with another win away from home on Saturday.
The North London side have conceded just six goals on their travels all season, but three of those came at Luton on Wednesday in an uncharacteristically shaky defensive performance from Arteta’s side. If they are to take the spoils from Villa Park then they will need another miserly display from the back four as seen in the win at Brentford two weeks ago, otherwise Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey, and John McGinn will make hay for Villa.
Rice and Martin Ødegaard will need to also be on their game in order to win the midfield battle against Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara, who have formed a formidable axis at the heart of the hosts’ midfield. The game will likely be decided by whichever one of these thriving midfield pairings dictates the flow of proceedings.
Unai Emery will be without Bertrand Traore with a muscle injury, whilst Tyrone Mings and Emi Buendia remain long-term absentees with ACL injuries.
Otherwise, Villa have a clean bill of health ahead of the meeting with Arsenal, and given their heroics against City they may well field the same lineup.
Bailey and Tielemans deserve to keep their places in the side after their performances on Wednesday night. Moussa Diaby, Àlex Moreno, and Jacob Ramsey are excellent options to have in reserve to change the game.
Ezri Konsa will probably play at right back again, with Diego Carlos and Pau Torres continuing their partnership at the heart of the defence.
Arsenal are without several first-team players for the trip to Villa Park, with Takehiro Tomiyasu, Emile Smith-Rowe, Thomas Partey, Jurrien Timber, and Fábio Vieira missing with calf, knee, groin, and thigh injuries, respectively.
Mikel Arteta will also be missing from the touchline after picking up a yellow card against Luton.
Aston Villa (4-2-2-2)
Martinez; Konsa, Carlos, Torres, Digne; Luiz, Kamara; Tielemans, McGinn; Watkins, Bailey
Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Ødegaard, Rice; Havertz, Saka, Jesus; Martinelli
Villa have the huge incentive of posting a 15th consecutive home win but Arsenal will be a significant obstacle to that goal. The Gunners are in formidable form themselves but looked less than secure on Wednesday night. Both of these teams have masses of attacking talent and a high-scoring draw is a very possible outcome.
Prediction: Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 2