Aston Villa vs Arsenal – Premier League preview and team news

Arsenal will hope to push on from their stunning victory in Europe in the week by getting the better of lowly Aston Villa and ending the weekend at top of the Premier League.

There was a small step in the right direction for the hosts last time out as they collected their first point on the road since the opening day, holding Southampton to a 1-1 draw. They were fortunate to get away with series of near misses in the opening half hour, but managed to gain a foothold in the game and took the lead just before half-time. The second half was all about holding on amid severe pressure, and they were not quite able to as a corner kick proved their undoing.

Against a side as strong as Arsenal, it is vital that the Villa defence holds firm and does not give much away. The recent return of Jores Okore has been a major boost, but in general there is a lack of leadership right across the team, so in order to have any chance of coming away with any points here, the West Midlands club need a strong and determined collective performance. The fans will provide the backing, despite seeing their side languishing some six points adrift at the bottom.

The odds were firmly against Arsenal achieving the convincing victory they needed away to Olympiakos to make it through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but they passed the test with flying colours, a result which should represent a huge psychological boost going into the festive period and their bid to win the Premier League title. While their resilience has been hotly disputed over the past few seasons, this current side cannot be accused of lacking it now.

That they were able to get the job done in Athens was down to Olivier Giroud, who netted his first Arsenal hat-trick at the best possible time. The Frenchman is in a rich vein of form and is continuing to underline his importance to the Gunners cause, while he will fancy his chances of adding to his 13 goals for the season here up against a side low on confidence. Joel Campbell is also thriving, having been given his long-awaited opportunity in the first-team in recent weeks.

Micah Richards is likely to miss out for Villa with a knee injury, but Jack Grealish is back available following his recent misdemeanours, while Leandro Bacuna and Rudy Gestede should both be fit.

There are no new injuries for Arsenal, but they remain without Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla among others.

Last Meeting: An amazing three-goal blitz in the space of four minutes gave Arsenal a comprehensive win back in September 2014, as they took the Villa defence apart with some magnificent football. The opener was scored by Mesut Ozil, who latched on to a pass from Danny Welbeck to finish confidently, and it was roles reversed for the second as Welbeck grabbed his first goal for Arsenal. An Aly Cissokho own goal put the game beyond doubt on 36 minutes.

Played for both – Paul Merson: Now well known for his media work, Merson began his career with Arsenal and spent some 12 years as part of the first-team, making a total of 289 league appearances and scoring 78 goals before moving on in 1997. After just over a year at Middlesbrough, he moved to Villa Park, where in a more withdrawn role he managed 18 goals in 101 Premier League games.

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