Just a point is what Arsenal need to secure third position and earn a place in the group stage of next season’s Champions League, and it would be a major shock if they fail to do so against an Aston Villa side that plays its last top-flight game for the foreseeable future.
While a failure to maintain a significant title challenge has meant that this has been a season of underachievement and has led to some rumblings of discontent among supporters, a resilient performance at Manchester City last weekend has at least eased the pressure as far as finishing in the top four is concerned. A win here looks a foregone conclusion and the Gunners are becoming renowned for rounding off a campaign in style, so any angst should be kept to a minimum here.
Too many bad results and a lack of consistency at the back since the turn of the year has been their main downfall, as well as an inability to do the business against some of the Premier League’s less-fancied sides, who like to defend in numbers and soak up pressure before taking advantage of the gaps Arsene Wenger’s men leave at the back. A pivotal summer lies ahead, particularly with many of their traditional rivals expected to step up a gear or two next term.
Olivier Giroud is currently their leading striker and does a good job, ending a goal drought with a goal at Man City. But it is highly debatable whether he is the man to lift Arsenal back to the heights of Wenger’s first decade in charge, while the quality of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez cannot afford to keep going to waste.
There may be frustration around regarding the hosts, but supporters of Aston Villa must be wondering what that fuss is all about as their season has been nothing short of catastrophic, as their ever-presence in the Premier League since its inception in 1992 comes to an end here. They won their opening game at Bournemouth back in August, but that proved to be a false dawn as they have gone through multiple managers and continuously fielded a crop of players woefully short on quality.
They did manager to end a horrific sequence of 11 straight defeats with a draw at home to Newcastle United in their last outing, but the pain will not be over until a new structure is in place at the top of the club and results begin to turn around on the pitch. The future appeared like it potentially could be bright when they faced Arsenal in the FA Cup final a little over a year ago, but instead they have gradually become a laughing stock, with those in the stands more than willing to play along.
A major blow for Arsenal and England has seen Danny Welbeck ruled out for nine months, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still out. Mesut Ozil should return from a hip injury.
Visiting defenders Alan Hutton and Ciaran Clark are doubtful for Villa, who welcome back left-back Aly Cissokho from suspension.
Last Meeting: It was embarrassment for Aston Villa in February 2015 as they were thumped 5-0 at the Emirates Stadium. Olivier Giroud got the ball rolling after latching on to Mesut Ozil’s pass, and the German grabbed the second after the break, a goal which opened the floodgates. Theo Walcott’s well-taken effort, a penalty from Santi Cazorla and a powerful low shot from Hector Bellerin completed the rout.