By Dean Gregory
Arsenal vs Aston Villa
A game of two halves saw Villa succumb to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Southampton last week. A trip to the Emirates follows, where they will take on Arsenal in the hope of continuing their 100% away record this season.
Arsenal have had a jittery start to the season so far, and will be hoping that a narrow win over Man Utd last time out will be the start of a decent run of form.
Arsenal – L W L L W
Aston Villa – W W W L L
Mikel Arteta on Aston Villa
“It is a really competitive side, they have played some very different matches with different approaches to certain matches, having some big results against big teams and after two defeats they need a win as well and they will show that right from the start I think.
“I think they have a better understanding with the players. They’ve worked with the manager for longer. I think they recruited really well. They got Emi, they got a striker, they got Ross and Douglas Luiz who is a player who is starting to show us he is capable.
“He is a player that I know really well from my time and City and I think the time is benefiting them together. You can see what they are trying to do and they look really strong.”
On Jack Grealish
He is a top player, great talent, he is player who can make a difference at any moment in the game. He has this personality against any opponent, at any ground, to take the ball in any area of the pitch and he can make the difference, so we have to look after him.
Dean Smith on Southampton result
“There was a good reaction in the game, they showed an awful lot of character and played some really good football in the second half, but we can’t give teams four-goal leads.
“It was never a 4-0 game, it wasn’t a bad performance, but we gave free-kicks away in silly areas. We have analysed the game and it’s not a lack of defensive action that led to the goals.
“We still feel that we’ve had a good start, the last two results have been disappointing.The players are still confident, that’s for sure, they want to put it right. We believe that we have a really good squad and players that can play the way that we want to play.”
Arsenal have primarily made use of a 3-4-3 formation so far this season, with Alexandre Lacazette leading the line flanked by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian, Granit Xhaka partnering Thomas Partey in the middle and Gabriel joining Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney in defence. Hector Bellerin and Bukayo Saka operate as wing-backs.
They are a possession focused team who see 51.4% of the ball per game, successfully completing 86% of their passes. Of those passes, only 8% (49) per game are played long, while only 3% (15) per game are crosses.
They like to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible and play through their opponents rather than around; 80% of all shots taken are from directly in front of goal, while just 17% come from the left and 3% from the right. Despite this, they do make use of the flanks, particularly the left with 44% of their attacks utilising that side of the pitch.
Arsenal have scored nine goals so far from 8.48 xG. Seven of those goals have come from open play, while only one has come from any set piece situation – a corner. The other was from a penalty. They manage 8.6 shots per game on average, outlining the focus Arteta has given them on the defensive side of their game.
In terms of that defence, they have conceded just seven goals so far from 7.82 xGA, giving them the best defensive record in the league at the moment. All of these have come from open play, where they are able to limit their opponents to 10.4 shots per game at just 0.12 xG per shot.
At times in recent seasons, Arsenal have had the firepower to look incredibly dangerous in attack while their defense has been very suspect. They look to have solved this issue now, and once they find a comfortable balance between attack and defence they will start to climb the table rapidly.
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One to Watch
Defender Gabriel has been a key part of Arsenal’s defensive reform. He contributes 1.7 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and 2.8 clearances per match on average, while his 89.5% passing accuracy has helped them play out from the back. He wins 2.5 aerial duels per game, and has even chipped in with a goal.
Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa – 17-08-2013
Two goals from Christian Benteke, one a penalty and the other a rebound from a penalty, followed by a debut goal from Tony Moon, cancelled out Olivier Giroud’s early opener.
How it could play out
It says a lot about Arsenal’s new defensive approach to the game that their last three matches in the Premier League have had 1-0 score lines. It perhaps says a bit more that two of them have been losses. They concede more shots than they take, which is not something you would ever say about the swashbuckling, bombastic Arsenal sides of the past.
Perhaps the most curious thing about them at the moment, however, is how wildly different their stats are in the Europa League than they are in the Premier League – they have scored nine goals in both competitions so far, but in Europe they take 17.7 shots per game and have only played three matches. They also allow just 7.3 shots per match and have only conceded two goals.
This shows they still have the capability to play the offensive brand of football they are usually associated with, but have learned that the demands of the Premier League and the relatively higher quality of opponent forces them to rethink their approach to the match. It is a credit to them that they are able to adapt in this way.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa’s surprisingly strong start to the season has collapsed somewhat, with two losses on the trot seeing seven goals conceded before they managed to score. A better performance in the second half showed they are still capable of playing without letting their heads drop (albeit against a Southampton game who took their foot off the gas), but it will be a humbling experience for the players.
A game against this newly subdued Arsenal is perhaps an opportunity for them to find some stability – they continue to be competent going forward and some reduced pressure on the back line might help them regain some confidence and composure. The last time they played they were able to prevent Arsenal from getting a single shot on target, and the back four they are likely to use is largely the same as the one from that match.
Villa have also beaten Arsenal in a pre-season game too, since their win at the end of last season, so they’ll be undaunted by their North London opponent.
Villa will find their genuine opportunities limited in this match, but if they can take them they can keep a positive start to the season rolling on.
Arsenal 1-1 Aston Villa
A first draw of the season would be a good result for Villa. It would help stabilise them after a rough couple of games, and it would be just rewards against a side that are hard to score against and who have arguably two of the league’s best attacking players.