Arsenal vs Aston Villa
This year more than any other there seems to be chance for the lesser teams. The likes of Spurs, Man City, and Aston Villa seem the most like to break into the top 4. Arsenal looked out of the race just two weeks ago but the leaders ahead of them have slipped up and let them back in.
Villa are the form side in the Premier league with 7 wins in the last 8 games, but this will be the sternest test to their pretensions.
Arsenal are back in the hunt as they are only 6 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, so they could potentially be only 3 points behind Chelsea if they win their game in hand.
Arsenal game plan – dominate the midfield
For Arsenal to win they will have to dominate possession and in order to create movement and space for the supporting attackers to enter the box.
Andrei Arshavin has become the focus of the attack since Van Persie was injured, and he punished Liverpool recently by confusing the defence with his darting runs.
Defence – Villa will play long balls and along the wings, while stiffling the Arsenal middle. Vermaelen will be up against the mountain that is John Carew, who will hold the ball up for faster players like Agbonlahor.
It is important that the Arsenal fullbacks push forward to pin back the Villa wingers Young and Milner who alternate wings.
Midfield – This is the fulcrum of the Gunners, the awesome Fabregas, the tenacious Song and Denilson is finding his feet again. Samir Nasri is going to be crucial in providing his through-balls and quick releases. Fabregas loves playing at home and should dominate the ball but Villa will be very physical on him.
Forwards – Walcott is back and even though he isn’t scoring much he is causing damage, his quick pace on the counter might kill off Villa later on. Eduardo is not comfortable as a main striker as he needs room to improvise but Arshavin has taken most of the attention off him.
Aston Villa game-plan – soak up pressure and hit on the counter
Villa play a high-tempo open game with two marauding wingers and plenty of support from the midfield and backs. That kind of game would be suicidal at the Emirates, they will have to play deeper to counter the pace of Arsenal, stifling the midfield and hope for a quick counter with the wingers.
Defence – Curtis Davis and Cuellar are good in the middle but might be pulled apart by the movement and pace of Arsenal. The question is whether to go man-to-man or zonal, the movement of the Gunners makes it hard to do either. The fullbacks should sit deep and provide cover for the advancing wingers.
Midfield – this is the key area where Villa need to play their cards right. They need a physical presence but without giving fouls away.
Villa are not as solid in the middle since the departure of Gareth Barry to Man City. It is important that they mark Fabregas out of the game, while also dominating Song to gain physical supremacy.
The wingers are crucial for Villa to get a result, they have to pick the right moment to spring the attack, if they can pin back Troare and Sagna then they stand a good chance. Ashley Young needs to have a good game for Villa to win.
Forwards – Carew is crucial for Villa to create space for Agbonlahor to pounce, Carew will have to play with his back to goal to hold off Gallas and Vermalen and link up with support. Agbonlahor will most likely have to play deep at first to help the midfield then sneak in on the counter-attack.