With another season on the brink of collapse the message from Arsene Wenger was one of stubborn defiance. He won’t be leaving Arsenal despite an eighth year without a trophy at the Emirates Stadium almost guaranteed. The determination to right the wrongs of home defeats to Blackburn and Bayern Munich is crystal clear and any danger of his 16-year tenure coming to a premature end appears slim. But with the priority now on finishing in the Premier League top four the visit of Aston Villa kicks off a defining run of games in Arsenal’s season. Before the Champions League second leg trip to Bayern the North London club must lock horns with Tottenham and Everton, who are both rivals for a place in the continents elite competition. And if the Gunners are remain in touch with the chasing pack they have to beat a struggling Villa side in a game of great significance for both sides.
Paul Lambert’s side rarely fare well in this fixture, recording just two wins in their last 28 meetings with Arsenal, and that will be a worry to the Scotsman whose side sit just a point and a place above the bottom three. A rare victory over West Ham a fortnight ago raised hope that Villa retain the mental capacity to beat the drop following a spirited second half display. Sadly Lambert was offered little chance to cultivate any momentum thanks to the FA Cup weekend’s ill-timed interference. With that in mind his game plan is likely to focus on avoiding defeat at the Emirates Stadium and a point would be viewed as another positive step towards survival.
Kieron Gibbs is still absent for Arsenal but Nacho Monreal is back after being cup-tied for the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.
Aston Villa can call upon Gabriel Agbonlahor and Karim El Ahmadi (both illness), while Charles N’Zogbia has shaken off a thigh problem.
What the managers said…
“Never. Not one second. At the board meeting, we spoke about many things, it is about commercial, ticket prices and long-term plans. I made my report as well on the technical side so it was the usual thing. Of course there was no euphoria because we have gone through a disappointment on Tuesday night but apart from that we are responsible people who know what it is to fight. What we need is to be united and strong and not to be destabilised by people who have strong opinions after one game. I believe what is important is that the club always [sticks] with the guidelines we have and do not change direction every time that we lose a big game. That would just lead to a disaster.” Arsene Wenger maintains he never considered quitting Arsenal (London Evening Standard)
“You can’t let them settle. You have to give them a game. We will have to play really well to get something down there. Going forward we are a threat but in terms of stopping them, it is a collective thing. It is not just the defence. It is the whole unit that we have to tighten up. We’ll give it a go and get on the front foot down there. Benteke’s in good form and his confidence is sky-high at the moment, Agbonlahor is fit again which is a bonus, Weimann and N’Zogbia are playing their part. Those four lads have been playing very well of late. They are a definite threat. We’re going to have to put a right shift in too that’s for sure. You don’t get anything if you don’t put a shift in. But we are playing with plenty of confidence.” Paul Lambert says Aston Villa can leave the Emirates Stadium with a favourable result (Aston Villa official website)
Pre-Match Statistic: Arsenal haven’t tasted defeat in 13 February fixtures since losing 2-0 to Chelsea in 2010
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa