Pressure will be a word applied to both managers this weekend for different reasons as Arsenal host Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger has seen his name feature heavily in the press this weekend following FA Cup and Champions League misery in the past week, whereas Villa boss Paul Lambert is still struggling to win over the Villa Park faithful.
Arsenal have endured a difficult week with Championship side Blackburn dumping them out of the FA Cup last Saturday and Bayern Munich destroying their hopes of Champions League success with a 3-1 first leg success at the Emirates Stadium in midweek. Add that to Wenger’s surprise midweek outburst at the press and the pressure is firmly cranked up on the Frenchman. The Gunners sit fifth, four points away from arch rivals Tottenham in fourth, but their league form has seen 10 points from the last 12 available. The North London derby takes centre stage next weekend and a win over struggling Villa will make the fixture at White Hart Lane one of momentous proportions.
Defensive woes have hit Wenger this week as Bacary Sagna was ruled out of the Villa game with a knee problem. Carl Jenkinson is back following suspension and is expected to deputise at right back. Kieran Gibbs remains absent with a thigh problem, but January signing from Malaga Nacho Monreal is available after being cup-tied against Bayern in midweek. Wenger will know that a win is essential against Villa on Saturday and the atmosphere at the Emirates will be dependent on Arsenal’s start.
Villa have picked up valuable points on the road this season with a win at Anfield and a point at Goodison Park in their last away fixture. Lambert’s side grabbed a vital win over West Ham in their last Premier League game, which leaves them three points ahead of the bottom three. However, a trip to the Emirates Stadium, followed by next week’s fixture with champions Manchester City, will be tough and Lambert has called on his side to prepare for “12 cup finals” as the season draws close.
Charles N’Zogbia, who was instrumental in the win over the Hammers, has recovered from a thigh problem to make the trip to North London. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Karim El Ahmadi also return for Villa after recuperating from illness. Christian Benteke has 11 league goals this season and has grabbed a goal or more in the last four Villa outings in the Premier League, so Arsenal will have to be wary of his threat.
In the last four league meetings at the Emirates Stadium, Villa have grabbed two victories so will be confident of a surprise win that will heap more negativity on Wenger. The Frenchman recognises this is a must-win for Arsenal to quell the doubters in North London and the last time Arsenal lost three successive home matches was just over a decade ago. Expect goals in this one, with 51 scored in Arsenal’s home fixtures this season.