Alex McLeish’s side are also desperate to get back on the winning trail after their home defeat against Liverpool on Sunday. The Villans form has dipped considerably in the last month with two wins in their last nine seeing them lose their top eight position. However it’s been a very encouraging start to life in the claret and blue side of the Midlands for McLeish despite the supporters opposition to his appointment. 12 months ago the club were battling to keep their head above as they sank into the bottom three under Gerard Houllier. However the recent blip as served as cannon fodder for fans to lambasting their boss and his tactics. McLeish has certainly made Villa harder to beat but has had to sacrifice some of their attacking intent. That was evident in the defeat to Liverpool although their cause wasn’t helped by the absence of key attacking duo Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor who have provided 10 goals between them. The latter returns from suspension for the visit of Arsenal and will come as a welcome relief to McLeish who saw his side struggle to impose themselves in the final third on Sunday.
The Gunners are also desperate for three points after seeing their faint challenge for the Premeir League title ended by Manchester City. Arsene Wenger’s side were narrowly beaten 1-0 by the leaders on Sunday ending an eight game unbeaten run that had turned their season around following a dreadful start. The return from Thomas Vermaelen from injury along with the improved form of summer signing Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have given Arsenal a settled and stable back four. The trio were in fine form at the Etihad Stadium last week and showed just how far they’ve come in the last couple of months providing an impenetrable barrier up against City’s devastating attack. Wenger faces a selection headache for the trip to Villa though with five first team defenders on the sidelines. It’s in the final third where the Gunners have also improved with Theo Walcott having his best season on the right wing to date whilst new boys Gervinho and Mikel Arteta have settled in nicely to an ever-improving midfield. Robin Van Persie has also carried on his fine form during 2011 and he stands just two goals away from matching Alan Shearers record of 36 in a calendar year. The Dutchman and his teammates will face a tough test in the Midlands up against a Villa defence that conceded only nine goals at home this season.
Aston Villa 10th : 19 points
Team news: Gabriel Agbonlahor returns from suspension and could be joined by Darren Bent in the starting line up as he looks to shake off a thigh injury. Shay Given and Chris Herd will be the only players currently sidelined at Villa Park should Bent recover in time to play.
Key Player: Gabriel Agbonlahor
How Villa missed the speedy forward against Liverpool on Sunday with Marc Albrighton and Charles N’Zogbia unable to replicate the role played by Agbonlahor. The 25-year-old is having his best season to date at Villa Park and his pace and skill will be key to unlocking Arsenal’s defence.
Arsenal 5th : 29 points
Team news: Johan Djourou became the ninth player to check into Arsenal’s treatment room after picking up a groin strain on Sunday joining the likes of Andre Santos, Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere and Kieron Gibbs.
Key Player: Robin Van Persie
I have to admit it gets easier and easier to write about Van Persie every week as he continues his amazing form in 2011. Despite not scoring against Manchester City he was a constant threat in and around the penalty area and will be confident of equalling or even surpassing Alan Shearers goal scoring record for a calendar year against Aston Villa.
Villa need to win to silence the boo boys who have resurfaced after their recent poor form but come up against an Arsenal side hot on the heels of the top four. The Gunners were unlucky to emerge on the losing side in the blue half of Manchester last Sunday and will be going all out to ensure they leave the Midlands with three points.