With so many matches in the Premier League cancelled because of the FA Cup this weekend we are left with just the one fixture taking place and it is one which could determine who qualifies for the Champions League next term.
That is because Arsenal are in action once again when they go to Aston Villa, who have the chance to highlight the improvement they have been making under Steven Gerrard this term even though they are not really playing for anything.
Where to watch
The match will be shown in full on BT Sport 1. As ever the build-up to the early kick off begins at 11.30am with the game kicking off at Villa Park at 12.30pm.
When you look at the table Aston Villa are heading what you might call the second division of the Premier League with the top eight sides a fair way clear and then there is them. In time they will be aiming to be part of the upper part of the table but when you consider they changed manager midway through the campaign and are building again under Steven Gerrard I think the position they are in is an acceptable one, especially if they finish the season well and remain in the top half.
The Villans saw a three-match winning streak come to a close last time out when they went down at West Ham but that might have been a legacy of a match against that crazy Leeds United side barely 72 hours prior to that. Villa don’t have a great record against the best sides in the league but they did hold Manchester United here in January and have performed well more often than not since then. They need to stay on track here to take some positivity into the international break with them.
The Gunners saw a five-match winning streak end in midweek. In essence, a defeat at home to Liverpool isn’t a bad result but it was another reminder of just how far away from the top sides in the division they are. They are certainly an improving work in progress but there is still work to do. One thing which will signal their progression is making it into the Champions League for next term. A win here would move them four points clear of Manchester United and with a game in hand.
The initial problem Arsenal have here is that they lost to Liverpool on Wednesday evening and now they have the early kick off on Saturday afternoon. Recovery time from what would have been an energy zapping night just hasn’t been there so this will take a real physical effort for the Gunners to be near 100% in this match. The other problem they have is that Villa Park is a tough place to go and although Arsenal have won their last four away from home, three of them have been against teams in the bottom five. Prior to that run they had won just two of eight on their travels.
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Aston Villa are going to need to find a left-back for this match because Lucas Digne has been ruled out with the injury which forced him off against West Ham. Calum Chambers and Douglas Luiz picked up injuries in that game but are expected to be available. Kortney Hause will definitely miss out.
Mikel Arteta is hopeful that Japanese international Takehiro Tomiyasu will be available although it might be that he is only able to feature from the bench. Arteta hasn’t declared any other injuries but could be expected to rotate his squad with the short turnaround.
I find it hard to believe that Arsenal are going to be in a great physical shape here. If they were playing a side they dominated in easier conditions on Wednesday evening then you could make a case for them not being that impacted by that game but they played a tough Liverpool team in driving rain and heavy conditions. Aston Villa have had their feet up since Sunday and have to be in the better place of the two teams here.
Villa lost at West Ham on Sunday but that isn’t exactly a terrible result and as I eluded to above a large reason for the defeat was the relentless energy they had to use up against Leeds United less than three days earlier. In that regard, things have gone full circle and they should be able to benefit from the schedule. In Philippe Coutinho, Villa will have the best player on the pitch and against a potentially jaded Arsenal side he can lead the home side to some sort of a positive result.
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