Preview: Aston Villa vs. Arsenal

Aston Villa and Arsenal will both be aiming to bounce back from demoralising defeats in midweek when they kick off Premier League gameweek 23 at Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime.

The hosts were put to the sword by West Ham United on their own turf last time out, whereas Arsenal lost in the league for the first time in 2021 at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
West Ham were given a helping hand by two uncharacteristic mistakes from Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in midweek, but the Hammers fully merited their 3-1 win over a beleaguered Aston Villa team.

The Argentine goalkeeper would have expected to save both of Jesse Lingard’s goals on the night, but the West Ham new boy managed to get the better of his opponent twice after the prolific Tomas Soucek had already opened the scoring, and Ollie Watkins’s ninth goal of the season did little to lift Dean Smith’s spirits.

Martinez will certainly hope to put that underwhelming performance behind him as he gears up to face his former club on Saturday, where a win would do wonders for Villa’s European prospects after a spell of inconsistent form in the top flight.

Smith’s men have only taken maximum points from two of their last seven matches in the Premier League and now find themselves six points adrift of West Ham in fifth, but something has to give when seventh-placed Tottenham Hotspur take on eighth-placed Chelsea on Thursday, so a win for Villa over Arsenal would see them leapfrog at least one of those teams depending on the outcome of that London derby.

Smith’s loyalty to a small crop of regular first-team players could end up proving costly as fatigue sets in – the likes of Ross Barkley and John McGinn did not produce their most fruitful performances against West Ham – and the Villa boss will be expected to shuffle the pack against an Arsenal side who also have a point to prove.
David Luiz giving away penalties and being brandished from the field of play is nothing new, but the Brazilian had every right to feel hard done by against Wolves in midweek.

Mikel Arteta’s men were well on top and took a deserved lead through Nicolas Pepe’s opener, but Luiz was adjudged to have fouled Willian Jose in the area on the stroke of half time, and the former Chelsea man was given a straight red card for the third time as an Arsenal player before Ruben Neves slotted home.
There was no air of controversy surrounding Joao Moutinho’s spectacular winner in the second half, and any hopes of an Arsenal comeback were quickly dashed when Bernd Leno handled outside the area and was also given his marching orders.

Several Gunners players took to social media to voice their dismay after the match, with Luiz labelling his sending off as “unbelievable”, but Arteta’s men cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves and must aim to get back on track straight away.

The visitors had strung together a seven-game unbeaten run in the top flight – five wins and two draws – before their torrid evening at Molineux, but that defeat has seen them slump to 10th in the table and they are now nine points adrift of the Champions League places.

Arteta’s men could potentially rise as high as seventh with a win depending on Thursday’s result, although that scenario is highly unlikely given Spurs’ and Chelsea’s superior goal difference, and Villa have come out on top in the last two meetings between the two clubs.

Aston Villa Premier League form: LLWLWL
Aston Villa form (all competitions): LLWLWL

Arsenal Premier League form: WDWWDL
Arsenal form (all competitions): DWLWDL

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