Arsenal can move a step closer to wrapping up their spot in next season’s Champions League when they host Aston Villa on Sunday.
With the top three sides in the Premier League earning automatic qualification into the group stage of European football’s premier club competition, third-placed Arsenal can move five points ahead of Manchester City – who play on Tuesday due to their participation in the FA Cup final – if they win at the Emirates Stadium.
They have secured their Champions League spot, however – but should Roberto Mancini’s side eclipse them for third place, Arsenal would have to go through the qualifying rounds, meaning an earlier start for the season, and a shorter lay-off for their injury-plagued stars.
But while Arsenal are expected to win against the 14th-placed Villa, their recent run of form has been poor and with just three wins in their last 13 matches in all competitions, it is clear Arsene Wenger’s side have struggled to bounce back from their shattering 2-1 extra-time Carling Cup defeat at the hands of Birmingham City in February.
Remarkably, Aston Villa has also just won three of their last 13 fixtures and from those statistics it is clear that this fixture is a meeting between two very out-of-form sides.
One reason for their respective form slumps is injury, with first-team regulars Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy (hamstring) and Cesc Fabregas (thigh) all on the sidelines for the Gunners but their opponents do not have the same excuses, with only Jean Makoun (calf) sidelined.
Villa have been sucked down into the relegation mire, mainly due to their inability to keep clean sheets, with just one registered since late January.
Both sides failed to win last week, with Arsenal collapsing to a miserable 3-1 defeat at Stoke City that highlighted the side’s defensive problems, while Aston Villa came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic.
The previous meeting between these two sides was a 4-2 victory to Arsenal at Villa Park in November and if the reverse fixture is as entertaining, both sets of fans will be treated to an excellent exhibition of football.
Many would expect a routine home victory for Arsenal but with Aston Villa having nothing to play for, and consequently a free licence to attack, they might just surprise the hosts, especially if players like Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor can fire.