Arsenal Vs Aston Villa: No Room For Error

So, no long wait for our next game then, its straight into our first defence of the automatic Champions League qualification place as we face Aston Villa at home. Previously this season we’ve had a flair for the dramatic against Villa, beating them as we have with a late goal at Villa Park and from two goals down at home in the FA Cup. I have to say I’d take something more mundane today, anything which keeps us where we are in the table with three extra points to our name will do just fine.

Aside from our game there’s a vital part of the equation that’s not to be missed in the early kick off as our two Champions League qualification rivals, Spurs and Chelsea face one another at Stamford Bridge. The pressure is bearing down on both sides, Chelsea now some five points off the top four and Spurs really on the slide. Normally when your rivals play each other like this you tend to think a draw would be the most favourable result as that means both sides drop points and don’t get me wrong, that would be good for us but I actually think that provided we can get a result against Villa, a Chelsea win would actually be more beneficial to us.

Chelsea after all are six points behind us, if we win today then they would still be six points behind us (again, provided we beat Villa). Spurs are currently within a single point of us, if they lose today and we win it opens up a four point advantage for us in the automatic Champions League spot. Not only that but overall its better for us if Chelsea are the other team that finishes in the Champions League places rather than Spurs as it removes any chance of Chelsea undoing our hard work if we finish 4th by winning the Champions League (unlikely in the extreme with the likelihood of them facing Barcelona in the semis, but there it is) and of course if after everything Spurs end up playing Europa League football next season it would be absolutely hilarious.

But anyway, the job in hand is what matters and that’s the match against Villa today. No new injury concerns are arising from the victory over Everton in midweek so it could well be an unchanged side, complete with the unexpected deployment of Aaron Ramsey in the forward three. I suppose that decision has much to do with the recent good form of Tomas Rosicky which has compelled the manager to leave Ramsey out of the starting eleven. It worked well against fairly similar opponents on Wednesday, perhaps it might prove something that we’ll stick with as Arsene Wenger continues to take things slowly regarding the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to regular first team action.

As I mentioned before, our encounters with Villa this season have been anything but smooth rides. I think we largely made things more difficult for ourselves than they have needed to be in those games. The concession of an equaliser at Villa Park which necessitate our late winner was thoroughly avoidable whilst we just weren’t at it in the first half of the FA Cup game and that enabled Villa to get themselves into a two goal lead. When the team did finally get its act together, we overhauled the deficit in double quick time.

This time around we’ve been in rich form going into the game (although we’ve still been making things difficult for ourselves in some matches), and Robin Van Persie believes that momentum is now with us. The captain says,

“In the battle for third place the momentum is ours now, we are winning games and the other teams are dropping points,”

“They have tough fixtures coming up too because Chelsea meet Spurs this Saturday. From our point of view, for those two to play each other at this moment is fantastic because we know one of them – or even both of them – will definitely drop points.

“So we have to win against Villa to take advantage of that. If we have to win ugly, then let’s do that. It’s part of our job too. We have shown great character in the last few weeks, so why not do it every week now?”

Robin spoke of ‘winning ugly’ before the Everton game as well and you know what he means – its the result that matters at the end of the day and there’s still very little room for error despite the progress we’ve made. If we have to win with a goal deflected off the arse of an unfortunate Villa defender then so be it. By hook or by crook, we have must have the three points tonight.

If you read Arseblog during the week you’ll know he gave a glowing review to the performance of our back four at Everton, their function as a unit and their determination to keep a clean sheet, aided by some robust protection from midfield. This current combination of defenders has yet to lose in the league and seem to be forging a crucial understanding that could help us build a solid foundation to progress from.

Theo Walcott has paid tribute to the leader of that defence, Thomas Vermaelen, a man who has been simply indispensable as always this season and in the last two league games has provided the winning goals. Walcott said,

“[They were] brilliant – really important goals as well,

“The Newcastle win was massive and he showed that desire to get from defence to attack and latch onto things. He’s an absolute soldier, someone you’d always want in front of you, a real leader who just wants to win.

“To see him banging in another big goal at Everton was great. I’m happy for him – he had his injury problems last season but he’s one of the best defenders in the world without a doubt.”

I think next to Vidic and Kompany, there’s a good case for considering Vermaelen one of the best centre-halves in the league at the moment. His goalscoring has been a bonus but to me it’s how much stronger our defence looks when he’s in it that matters. His qualities have contributed massively to our improvement in defence and I would say its just as vital for us that he doesn’t pick up an injury before the end of the season as it is for Robin Van Persie.

That’s going to round things off for today. Enjoy the game whatever you’re doing and I’ll return soon.

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