After sealing a era-defining 1-0 victory at Manchester United last Sunday, Arsenal return to Premier League action this weekend as they take on Aston Villa at the Emirates.
On the face of it, picking up three points against a United side stuck in the bottom half of the table doesn’t seem like something serious to shout about, but the fact the Gunners ended their away-day hoodoo at a top-six club in the top-flight will surely have gone a long way in ensuring players and fans begin to believe in manager Mikel Arteta that little bit more.
But, as is always the case in the Premier League, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. And a win against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side last time out, will mean absolutely nothing if the Gunners slip-up against Aston Villa at the Emirates – the same team of course that beat them in the penultimate game of last season to take a pivotal step in avoiding relegation back to the Championship.
And whilst Jack Grealish will be one of the players Arsenal look out for given his talismanic status for Villa, the Gunners simply cannot look past the Midlands club’s summer signing, Ollie Watkins.
The former Brentford striker, who arrived in a £33m deal, has started the campaign like a house on fire, bagging six goals in nine games across all competitions, including a brilliant hat-trick against reigning champions Liverpool.
His blend of pace and strength has made him a tricky customer to handle for opposition defences this season, and his that physicality is something Brentford’s programme editor, Chris Deacon, has raved about. He said: “Ollie transformed himself into a physical specimen. We’d call him a machine because it looked like he would set himself into third gear and then cruise along at the front while everyone else was blowing.”
By the middle of last month, only Newcastle’s Andy Carroll had a better win-to-lose ratio in headed duels among strikers known for their aerial dominance. He is a real menace to centre-backs, making 1.3 tackles per game (impressive for a centre-forward), and winning 8.2 total duels per match as well.
Arsenal’s own summer signing, Gabriel, has enjoyed a fine start to life in north London himself. On Sunday however, he will face one of his most unique tests yet – a more typical and more old-school Premier League striker, capable of going in behind and winning 50/50s. If he’s not ready, then he could face a difficult day.