Preview by Numbers: Aston Villa v. Arsenal

Villa Park, Birmingham
Sunday, December 13
8:30 a.m. EST, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • This Match, Last Year: Aston Villa 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 80 Arsenal wins, 66 Aston Villa wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-L-D-W
  • Aston Villa's League Form: L-L-D-L-L-D
Giroud waves to his adoring fans.
Back in October, I did a ton of research on the ultimate league record of teams who crashed out of the Champions League group stage into the Europa League. Thankfully, I don't need it. As an aside, if you know of any United blogs I could pass the information along to, that would be great.

It's moderately worrying that at least one English club has crashed out of the group stage in five of the last seven seasons, but you'd have to go back to 1999/2000 to find the last time in happened to Arsenal. 16 years running in the knockout phase. Before we move on, I just want to say that we're all pretty certain we're drawing Barcelona, right?

Anyway, Arsenal will play the early fixture on Sunday (while all of the Europa League teams get to play later) as they travel to Birmingham to face last place Aston Villa. Villa were last relegated in 1987; they are one of seven clubs to have thus far spent all 24 Premier League seasons in the top flight. I mean, Villa were one of the original 12 clubs of the Football League, back in 1888.

Five or six years ago, it would have been lunacy to think Villa would be fighting relegation. When Arsenal and Aston Villa met on Boxing Day in 2009 (well, December 27,) they were third and fourth in the table, respectively, Arsenal ahead only on goal difference with a game in hand. But, hey, five months ago it would have been lunacy to think Chelsea would be just two points clear on December 11.

Back to the matter at hand, Arsenal are still battered by injuries, but they're getting results now. They'll need to keep it up against a last place club, or else it's more frustrating points dropped.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (knee,) Alexis (hamstring,) Coquelin (knee,) Arteta (calf,) Welbeck (knee,) Wilshere (ankle,) Rosicky (knee)

Mikel Arteta should be back soon, though hopefully he
doesn't put in any more own goals.
No rest for the weary... well, except after this one. Arsenal will have seven days off between this match and their clash with Manchester City the following Monday, which is might mean they get some bodies back. Mikel Arteta should be available the soonest from the list; I think we'd all like to believe Alexis Sanchez will be fit for City on the 21st, but that might be a week too soon for the Chilean.

Team news is usually pretty sparse after a Wednesday night Champions League tie, even more so after a road match. By the time you're reading this, Arsene Wenger might have had his press conference and it might turn out that we've got a whole new slew of injuries.

More likely, Arsenal will make no changes to the XI that won in Greece.

Predicted XI: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Campbell, Giroud.

Aston Villa Squad News

Out: Gardner (ankle,) Richards (knee,) Amavi (knee)
Doubts: Bacuna (knock,) Sanchez (eye,) Gestede (knee)

Jack Grealish is in line for a return after being dropped from
the first team.
Remi Garde, Arsene Wenger's first signing at Arsenal in 1996 (technically, he was signed on Wenger's recommendation while Wenger was seeing out his contract in Japan,) has taken over as Villa's manager after Tim Sherwood was sacked. He's getting some good news for this match, too, as Ciaran Clark will return from suspension. Captain Micah Richards is close to a return from a knee injury, but likely won't be available for this one.

Gary Gardner, who has dealt with a number of serious injuries in his career, is out as he lacks match fitness. Jordan Amavi's season is over with an ACL injury. Meanwhile, there are doubts over Leandro Bacuna, Carlos Sanchez, and Rudy Gestede.

Jack Grealish is back with the first team after he was dropped for visiting a nightclub in Manchester following a 4-0 loss to Everton. Grealish missed league games against Watford and Southampton, but played for the Under-21s in a win over Derby County on Monday.

Predicted XI: Guzan, Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Bacuna, Veretout, Gueye, Sanchez, Sinclair, Agbonlahor, Ayew.

Current Form

Villa scored first last weekend but had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Arsenal's critical win in Greece on Wednesday makes this the first time the Gunners have won two straight since October; that was the four match winning streak, which included wins over Manchester United, Watford, Bayern Munich, and Everton. After that, it was two wins, three losses, and a draw over a seven match span before consecutive wins over Sunderland and Olympiacos appear to have righted the ship. But, we shall see...

As for Aston Villa, well, they beat Bournemouth 1-0 on the season's opening day. They haven't won in the league since. They picked up a draw against Sunderland in August, a draw against Manchester City in November, and a draw at Southampton last weekend. They've lost 11 in the league. They are winless in 14. They have six points from 15 matches. They did pick up two League Cup wins over lower division Notts County and Birmingham City before a fourth round loss to Southampton.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott celebrates the opening goal of last year's
FA Cup Final.
Arsenal and Aston Villa met three times last season; Arsenal won all three meetings comfortably: 3-0 at Villa Park, 5-0 at the Emirates, and 4-0 in the FA Cup Final.

At Villa Park in September, Arsenal scored three goals in four minutes via Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck, and an Aly Cissokho own goal. That was plenty enough for the Gunners as they maintained over 70% of the possession against a Villa side that was battling through a few illnesses.

Villa had no excuses at the Emirates in February, however, as they had more than half of the possession but generated just two shots on target. Arsenal led on eight minutes through Olivier Giroud but did not open the floodgates until near the hour mark. Mesut Ozil doubled Arsenal's lead in the 56th minute, Theo Walcott made it three in the 63rd, Santi Cazorla made it four from the penalty spot in the 75th, and Hector Bellerin opened his account to make it 5-0 in injury time.

Then, in the season's final match at Wembley, Theo Walcott scored just before halftime to give Arsenal the lead. Five minutes into the second half, a beauty from Alexis Sanchez made the lead comfortable. Per Mertesacker added a third just after the hour mark and Olivier Giroud put an exclamation point on the result in injury time to make it 4-0.

The Villans have just three wins in their last 35 matches against Arsenal across all competitions; bizarrely, all three of those wins have come at the Emirates. Villa's last win over Arsenal at home came in December of 1998; Arsenal led that match 2-0 at halftime and lost 3-2.

The Referee

It's been two years since Friend worked an Aston Villa match,
after Paul Lambert complained about his performance last time.
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have had a mixed record with Friend in the past, but won their only previous match with him this season, 3-0 over Swansea City. Arsenal had two wins, a loss, and a draw with Friend last season.

This is the first that Aston Villa will be seeing of Friend this year. In fact, this is the first time Kevin Friend will be working an Aston Villa match since August 21 of 2013, a 2-1 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In that match, Friend failed to send off Branislav Ivanovic for an elbow on Christian Benteke; Ivanovic went on to score the winning goal. In second half injury time, Friend failed to give Villa a penalty when John Terry handled a Gabriel Agbonlahor shot. After the match, Villa manager Paul Lambert filed an official complaint to the Professional Game Match officials board. Jose Mourinho later claimed that Lambert "complains too much."

So, for all of those "more like Kevin Enemy, amirite?" jokes I made while Arsenal's record was mixed with Mr. Friend, the feeling is actually like that for Aston Villa.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Norwich City v. Everton; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Southampton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Swansea City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Watford; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Stoke City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Bournemouth v. Manchester United; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (late): Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Monday (night): Leicester City v. Chelsea; King Power Stadium, Leicester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and whiskey aficionado. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to drink a drinkenflahblargingarbled.