Arsenal looks to regain their status atop the Premier League table with a win over Aston Villa on Monday (watch live on NBCSN at 2pm ET, online via NBC Sports Live Extra).
Arsenal enter the the match on a strong run of form, undefeated in their last five competitions. Since the 3-6 blowout at Manchester City, the Gunners drew 0-0 with Chelsea before conceding only one goal in their next four matches (West Ham, Newcastle, Cardiff City, Tottenham), all of which were wins.
Arsenal’s most recent match, the 2-0 win over Spurs in the FA Cup, was a dominant performance. While their football was played in the Gunners trademark stylish manner it was their grit determination that was most impressive, troubling the Tottenham defense without an out-an-out striker. With Olivier Giroud and Nicholas Bendtner both sidelined with injury, Theo Walcott played up top and did quite well until needing to be carted off with knee ligament damage.
It was a sour ending to a sweet performance but one that nevertheless set up the current hot topic – who will Arsenal buy in the January transfer window (myself and Joe Prince-Wright contemplate the issue in the above video). For the match against Villa, Giroud is likely to feature while Walcott and Bendtner are out. Thomas Vermaelen is also out after picking up a knee injury against Spurs and Kieran Gibbs remains sidelined with a knee injury. Long term absentee Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, however, looks ready to make his return after missing the last five months with a knee injury.
For 11th placed Aston Villa, the match represents a chance to further separate themselves from the drop zone as they currently sit just five points from relegation. Paul Lambert’s men have endured an underwhelming season, most recently capped off by a 1-2 FA Cup loss to Sheffield Wednesday. Before that Villa lost 0-1 to Crystal Palace before drawing 1-1 draw with Swansea City and beating Sunderland 1-0.
The Villains will look back with joy on their reverse fixture with Arsenal where a 3-1 victory marked the perfect open to the season. They enter the match with little excuses injury-wise as Chris Herd is out with a hamstring issue, Nathan Baker, Ron Vlaar and Joe Bennett are late fitness tests while Libor Kozak, Jores Okore and Charles N’Zogbia are long-term absentees.
What They’re Saying
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “I wouldn’t have any hesitation on playing Oxlade-Chamberlain against Aston Villa. What is most important is that he played last night [for Under-21s] and did well.”
Aston Villa Paul Lambert: “The Arsenal match might be a good game for us because nobody expects us to get anything. They’re playing really well, they’re on a fantastic run, they are one of the best teams around at the minute and they have probably got one of the best players going in Mesut Ozil.”
It’s payback time for Arsenal. Avert your eyes, Villains supporters, this could get ugly.