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Opponent Spotlight: Arsenal writer Tom Canton talks about facing Aston Villa, Kai Havertz and Declan Rice’s impact!

Ahead of Arsenal’s visit to Villa Park on Saturday, we spoke to Arsenal writer Tom Canton to get the lowdown on Mikel Arteta’s side.

Luton Town v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Following last season’s rollercoaster ride for the Premier League title, I think it is fair to say that many neutrals were curious to see how Arsenal would approach this season. Keeping in mind that Mikel Arteta’s side are currently sitting in first, what are Gunners fans expecting this season?

Tom Canton: Arsenal supporters are expecting a range of things. Some expect us to win the league, some expect us to simply challenge, some expect a trophy and others are just along for the ride with no expectations.

Everyone is entitled to their views, but from my perspective the most accurate would be to expect a better challenge than last season. When Manchester City sit as the favourites for the vast majority then expecting to beat them to any trophy seems a bit backwards in my mind. We should be aiming to win it all, but expecting it is always a word I tend to avoid at the present time.

We will get to Declan Rice in a moment, but the summer signing of Kai Havertz from Chelsea came as a bit of a surprise to some football fans - what have you made of the German’s time at Arsenal thus far?

TC: Kai Havertz has been on a journey, but were it for many vocal critics he’d never have been allowed to reach his current level of form. Three goals in the last three starts has seen a huge shift in the view of Havertz and for good reason.

His movement is excellent, and he has shown great resilience to plough on despite the persistent criticisms. He offers Arsenal something different and we have been very grateful for it of late.

Luton Town v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Declan Rice has slotted seamlessly into this Arsenal side and is proving to be a major difference maker for the Premier League title challengers.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

The signing of Declan Rice from West Ham United certainly cost a pretty penny, but has already proven to be worth while, with the midfielder already adding three goals and an assist to his resume this season. How crucial is Rice in regards to any potential success Arsenal may have this season and beyond?

TC: Declan Rice is the best player in the Premier League at the moment, bar none. There are others having great seasons, but there is no single player who has contributed more to their team’s successes than Rice has for the club this season.

£100 million? Bargain. Some witty fans have set up a GoFundMe to raise money for West Ham United because they feel so guilty for underpaying and quite right too! What a player and any success Arsenal have will require his availability for the entirety of the season.

Since Aston Villa’s return to the Premier League in the 2019/2020 season, Arsenal have won five out of a possible eight meetings between the two sides, with Villa winning the other three matches. What sort of match are you expecting to see at Villa Park on Saturday?

TC: I am expecting Villa to attack us on Saturday and after the win over Manchester City they have plenty of encouragement to do so. The difference from that game is unlike City, Arsenal do have competent central midfielders playing in natural roles and will be looking to win that war in the middle third.

That said, Arsenal must be wary because this Unai Emery team are a giant-killer and know how to win. Arteta will be in the stands too, so it will be interesting to see if that has an impact on things.

Arsenal Training Session
Arsenal boss, Mikel Arteta, will be missing from the dugout on Saturday due to a touchline ban. Could this prove to be an issue for the Gunners?
Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Which eleven players do you expect Mikel Arteta to select?

TC: Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Rice, Havertz, Odegaard; Saka, Jesus, Martinelli

From a Villa perspective, it feels incredibly strange stating that this is a clash between first and third in the table, but nonetheless, that is reality at this point in time - what is your score prediction?

TC: It is, but that is a credit to both sides and what they have achieved this season. I think there are goals here, but will give it to Arsenal 2-3.