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Friday evening football returns for the first time since the ill-starred opening day of the season at Brentford.

Yet, you will not expect me to start any preview by dwelling on anything so recent.

So cast your mind back to the October of 1904. 

That month, our Friday opponents, Aston Villa, were only our third top-flight visitors. Flush from our first Division One victory over Wolves, we saw off the illustrious Villains 1-0. Billy Garraty, like his descendant Jack Grealish, an England international, led Villa’s line. For those of you keeping score at home, Garraty was Grealish’s mother’s mother’s mother’s father.

Bill Gooing was our centre-forward that day. His prolific scoring in Division Two had been instrumental in our promotion and thus making London, not Birmingham, the southern frontier of the Football League’s top flight. However, his winning strike against Villa would be the only Division One goal of his 48 for Woolwich Arsenal, then a club record for career goals. 

Gooing would make just six further appearances. Finding himself second choice to newly arrived Charlie Satterthwaite, Gooing left for Southern League Northampton Town midway through the season. There he was briefly a teammate of one Herbert Chapman. He hung up his boots later that year, possibly because of injury, given he was only 31-years old.

By 1904-05, Villa was fading as the imperious force of Victorian football with five Division One titles and three FA Cups. Yet, regardless of its setback in Plumstead (avenged at Villa Park on Boxing Day), it was still formidable enough to finish fourth in the league and win a fourth FA Cup.

Since then, there has been the odd title and cup, most notably the European Cup in 1982. However, only three of its 15 major championships and trophies were won more recently than a century ago. Even counting five League Cups, a quarter of a century has passed since it last won silverware.

After relegation at the end of 2015-16, Villa returned to the top flight for 2019-20 following a takeover by Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. Sawiris is an Egyptian billionaire who made his money in construction but is not in the Gulf wealth class. Edens, an American, made his in private equity but is a borderline billionaire with a fortune of less than $2 billion. 

Since then, Villa has shown ambition and aspiration without delivering on either, finishing successively 17th and 11th. 

The Opposition
It goes into this game in 13th, a place and a point behind us. They arrive off a demoralising 3-2 defeat by Wolves in the West Midlands derby, squandering a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes. 

In the close season, manager Dean Smith strengthened his squad by bringing in Emiliano Buendia from Norwich, Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen, Danny Ings from Southampton and Ashley Young from Inter Milan, all paid for by selling Grealish to the Middle Eastlanders. 

That quartet joined the previous season’s trio of acquisitions, Ollie Watkins from Brentford, Bertrand Traore from Lyon and, of course, Emi Martinez, formerly of this parish.

Like us, Villa shops in the £30-something millions and under aisle.

Smith has fashioned his arrivistes into a 3-5-2, with young Ruud Gullit lookalike Tyrone Mings anchoring a back three in front of Emi. Matt Targett and Matty Cash play as the perpetual motion wing-backs the formation demands with Brazilian Douglas Luiz, the industrious John McGinn and Buendia or the 20-year-old Jacob Ramsey manning the supply lines to Ings and boyhood Arsenal fan Watkins upfront.

However, Smith needs to find a way to fit his creative players, Buendia, Leon Bailey and Bertrand Traore, into the side and address the failure of the Ings-Watkins strike partnership to click. 

After successive losses, Smith could revert to the 4-2-3-1 with which he took all six points off us last season or the 4-1-4-1 he also used. Watkins would play as the lone striker, a role that better suits him, in front of some combination of the fit-again Bailey, McGinn, playing a more advanced role as he does for Scotland, Buendia and Traore. Douglas Luiz would pivot the midfield ahead of a back four.

Villa will be a danger from set-pieces. Only the Mancs and the Bindippers have a better record in that regard this season. However, Villa’s away form in the league has been poor, except for a win at Old Trafford. They have lost at Watford, Chelsea and the neighbours. We must hope the dyspepsia from travelling southeast again prevails.

The Arsenal
We shall need more intensity and, yes, consistency (h/t, Dr F.) against Villa than we displayed on Monday evening. 

In his press conference ahead of the Villa game, Arteta said, If we play 4-3-3 the way we played the first 20 minutes [against Palace], we win the games, but if we start to play the way we played the following 20 minutes, it doesn’t work, because again, that is a transition game and we don’t have the players to do that when we play in that formation. 

Parsing that as best I can, he appears to be saying we lack the specialist DM or a defensive-minded CM needed to make his favoured 4-3-3 work — a lacuna frequently noted in this fine establishment. That player is not Partey, but plays alongside him. Xhaka is the closest we have, of which I will say no more.

Arteta’s faith in his way of playing will not falter. Based on no evidence beyond sticking a finger in the air, I will speculate that Maitland-Niles will start in order to provide more defensive solidity alongside Partey. This would free up KT3 to attack more and Ødegaard to play as a true 8, not a false 6. The team’s shape would morph back and forth between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in a game that is likely to be fought out in an overcrowded midfield. Our visitors will have five there whatever formation they play.

With Saka a racing certainty to be unavailable, having still not yet descended from whatever orbit McArthur booted him into on Monday night, and assuming the other unspecified knocks Arteta mentioned will be shaken off, this would be my expected line-up: 


Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney

Partey, Maitland-Niles

Pépé, Ødegaard, Smith Rowe


Arteta may have other ideas, including starting Lacazette, moving Auba out wide, and dropping Ødegaard, whom he has taken off in the 60th-something minute in the past two games, or the inconsistent Pépé in a more recognisable 4-3-3. Alternatively, he could play a midfield of AMN, Partey and Lokonga to keep ESR in the front three. Who knows? Clearly, not me.

Something to ponder before kick-off: If Emi had stayed as our no 1, would Ramsdale now be at the club, and, if he was, who would be between the sticks for us today? 

The ‘holics pound
The bookies favour a low scoring home win. Form and history are on their side. We have struggled to score in the league this season, and October games between the two sides have mostly been low-scoring affairs. In only four of the 21 fixtures has one side scored more than twice. 

The classic 1-0 to the Arsenal is available at eights and 2-1 at nines—both skinny odds but on realistic outcomes. So, hoping for an evening when we click with flair, panache and energy, I will plump for 3-1 at 16s. 

After two draws, three points are essential—time for heroes, not Villains.

Enjoy the game, ‘holics near and far.

53 Drinks to “Heroes and Villains”

  1. 1
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Not only are the monks historians of the finest order (intended 😉) but irreproachable genealogists too. Bravo! 👏

    Arteta may choose to go for the old Auba-Laca-Pépé frontline with ESR as #10 in front of Partey and Sambi/AMN. Ødegaard and Martinelli on the bench. I don’t think he will risk Saka at all given that he is yet to rejoin the practice.

    A statement-making performance is needed very much to push us ahead for the next few weeks.

  2. 2
    TTG says:

    That is a very fine and also very comprehensive preview of these events that may unfold on Friday . I’m starting to give up on Arteta believing that what we saw on Monday will repeat as serious how setbacks will continue to occur because we lack the quality of leadership and depth of squad to overcome the challenges .
    How I would love to be wrong , the concerns about balance , tactical nous and quality swept away in the euphoria of a 90 minute expression of real quality . I’ve lost faith but would be delighted if my scepticism proves unfounded and we see green shoots of creativity andy dynamism which drive us onwards . But I don’t think it will happen and the best we can achieve is a 1-1 draw ( similar to Monday ) . Ings and Watkins will stretch
    our defence and I hope Arteta can get a tune out of this squad .

  3. 3
    bt8 says:

    Dejeuner sur l’herbes?

  4. 4
    bt8 says:

    If Pires is King were still around I’d ask him for a few of his finest herbes, to be sure.

    Now to read your post, NBN.

  5. 5
    bt8 says:

    An excellent write-up Ned. Alas, reading about our past is a greater pleasure than reading about our present. Perspectives on that could change though (fingers crossed) with a good performance against the Villains. Lacazette to the rescue again?

  6. 6
    Silly Second Yella says:

  7. 7
    Silly Second Yella says:

    “…And I, I’ll drink all the time…”

  8. 8
    bathgooner says:

    An interesting and measured preview, Ned, that is neither coloured by the widely felt sense of despair following our inept, passive display for most of the match against Palace nor wallows in incautious optimism.

    I think your starting XI is likely to be accurate barring AMN who to my mind has never convinced as a central midfielder and before whom I would chose Sambi or indeed Elneny every time.

    I fear another performance of grinding mediocrity with no control of either midfield or the game and expect the 1-1 draw that TTG predicts is the best we can achieve.

    It’s been a long time since we deserved to beat Villa and that includes our last victory (check 7am KO’s preview) which I attended and after which I apologised to a Villa-supporting friend as there is no doubt Villa deserved three points that day. That was an early manifestation of the decline from which I am yet to see convincing evidence of remission.

  9. 9
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks for a fine preview Ned.
    With Saka out, and possibly one or
    two others who are doubts, it’s
    difficult to guess the side but I hope
    MA will put Thomas/Sami straight back
    in after their mistakes against Palace.
    A shot at redemption.
    Any win will do.

  10. 10
    North Bank Ned says:

    bath@8: I am long enough in the tooth to know that the future arrives more slowly than expected but happens more quickly once it has.

  11. 11
    North Bank Ned says:

    Dr F@1: Another genealogical tidbit: Charlie Satterthwaite’s brother, Joe, also played for Woolwich Arsenal, although only five times, in 1908. At least two of those were together, making them the first siblings to play for the club.

  12. 12
    Trev says:

    Thanks, Ned !

    A preview and an interesting history lesson – excellent research as always.

    Guessing our lineup is a difficult task but I might be inclined to go with a 4-4-2 for this one – so across the middle Pepe, Partey, Lakonga, ESR, with Lacazette and Aubameyang up front. I doubt it will happen but Lacazette would be entitled to feel miffed at being left out after his efforts to revive us on Monday, and he does link up quite nicely with the hopefully marauding Pepe and Smith-Rowe.

    Arteta will doubtless have a quite different plan. Let’s hope it’s a cunning one ….

  13. 13
    TTG says:

    4-4-2 looks a very sensible idea given the combinations that Laca and Auba put together on Monday . I’d drop Pepe in favour of Martinelli who makes things happen and has been given something of the cold shoulder by Arteta . He made things happen on Monday too. Pepe has match-altering ability but can be really frustrating as well

  14. 14
    Trev says:


  15. 15
  16. 16
    bt8 says:

    c100. Thanks for the wonderful article about ESR. I’ve got another one for you about Brendon Batson: https://www.arsenal.com/news/official-voice-brendon-batson

  17. 17
    Countryman100 says:

    Great article bt8!

  18. 18
    North Bank Ned says:

    Trev, TTG: I can find only two examples of Arteta starting in a 4-4-2, against the neighbours and Burnley last season. Both games were lost. The last time Laca and Auba started a game together was the home defeat by Liverpool last season.

  19. 19
    Trev says:

    Ned, law of averages means we should win then.

    Oh, hang on, you must be the very worst person to have that argument with 🤣

  20. 20
    Silly Second Yella says:

    1. Sell Martinez because Leno is No. 1

    2. Splash the cash for Ramsdale

    3. Drop Leno

  21. 21
    Esso says:

    Cheers Ned!

    Cheers 20 Silly Second Yella! Great footage – Paulie looking big on the Wing-O-Meter there!


  22. 22
    Esso says:

    Laca starts apparently

  23. 23
    Esso says:

    No KT injured

  24. 24
    Esso says:

    Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares, Lokonga, Partey, Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang, Lacazette

    Subs: Leno, Holding, Cedric, Maitland-Niles, Kolasinac, Elneny, Pepe, Odegaard, Martinelli

  25. 25
    Uplympian says:

    Cheers Ned for your normal fine, fact filled preview.
    Interesting team changes as advised by Esso. This one has more of a much needed physical presence to it. Let’s hope it can give a sufficient performance to collect all 3 points.

  26. 26
    bathgooner says:

    An interesting team selection. We will need that extra midfield muscle. I hope ESR and Saka have their dancing shoes on and Auba and Laca have their scoring boots on.

  27. 27
    bt8 says:


    On Nuno, On Laca, On Sambi and all you Gunners.

  28. 28
    Cynic says:

    Happy to see Odegaard and Pepe out of the side, let’s hope we get at them

  29. 29
    bathgooner says:

    Go win, Arsenal!



  30. 30
    Cynic says:

    Brilliant first half, keep it going.

  31. 31
    Gooner_KS says:

    Finally the energy and passion levels we so miss at times

  32. 32
    OsakaMatt says:

    Clean sheet is always nice but a much better performance and great to see ESR on the scoresheet. See out the game now and move on

  33. 33
    North Bank Ned says:

    3-1. Ned knows!

  34. 34
    TTG says:

    Good prediction Ned . I was more pessimistic than you but the reversion to two central midfielders ( huge difference from Monday and a big lesson ) , marrying Lacazette with Auba and some encouraging performances by newbies who didn’t convince me on Monday gave us a deserved win.
    Today underlined why we are better without Xhaka because Lokonga gave us a fluidity that Granit never does and never has ….and we moved the ball at a pace that Xhaka doesn’t have the capability to do. It’s exactly what I’ve been hoping to see

  35. 35
    OsakaMatt says:

    Hope the win will mean a little treat for the well-behaved monks Ned 😀

  36. 36
    Cynic says:

    Thought that was very good for most of the game, played at pace which always is far better for us.

    I didn’t like the “comedy booing” of Martinez, as it went on far too long and was quite pathetic really. It’s not like he left under a cloud or behaved badly since the move, so give him a jeer and then ignore him.

    Ref was either poor for letting too much go or brilliant for just that reason, depending on your view. The game flowed better for it anyway.

  37. 37
    TTG says:

    Good point re Emi. He has repeatedly underlined how pleased he was to leave but he did serve us well. That was an incredible save from Auba’s penalty .
    I thought Pawson missed an awful lot today but the way players roll around you would have to stop the game every few seconds . If we can reproduce that sort of quality and intensity it won’t be a bad season

  38. 38
    TTG says:

    On a good day for the club the U23s beat Everton 4-0

  39. 39
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@34. Partey looks twice the player in a two 🙂 Agree with you about Lokonga v Xhaka, not that I don’t think Toblerone man will go straight back into the team once he is fit again.

    We did not let Villa get a toehold in midfield in the first half and it made such a difference from the Palace game. You could see Arteta’s proto-4-3-3 at work.

    I also thought we missed better chances than the ones we scored, so to speak. They were three scruffy goals, although the overall scoreline was about right. Saka really should have had two goals in the first half, the follow-up to Auba’s overhead kick and the sidefooter from Tavares’ cut back that Martinez got a leg to.

  40. 40
    Countryman100 says:

    Rave review in the Guardian. Have to say, that was a splendid night in North London.


  41. 41
    Silly Second Yella says:

    Oooh Nuno Tavares

    Oooh Nuno Tavares

  42. 42
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Loved the energy and aggressiveness which compensated for the occasional (expected given the age profile of most of these players) wrong decision etc. We were completely switched on and outplayed Villa every way, including the 50:50 challenges where we tend to be weaker.

    Sambi and Nuno both are such exciting prospect, and Sambi already at a high level.
    ESR was magnificent, one of his best performances.
    Some very skilful passing and dribbling forward with the ball by White. Would love to see more of that.

    A word about the reception that Emi got: he hasn’t actually been silent about Arsenal since leaving and made the occasional sly dig at it in interviews. Supporters are well within their rights to remind him his irrelevance to Arsenal. He was not 1/3rd the keeper Ramsfield is at that age.

  43. 43
    bt8 says:

    An agreeable situation to find yourself in. Three points in the bag and a weekend ahead to watch other teams drop points. Drinks on the bar for thems who wants.

  44. 44
    Doctor Faustus says:

    @42: Ramsdale of course 😂 Cannot even use autocorrect as an excuse for that error.

  45. 45
    Cynic says:

    A bold claim about the back to back relegated Ramsdale. He’s done very well so far and really looks the part but we’ll see how things stand at the end of the season.

  46. 46
    North Bank Ned says:

    Cynic@45: Wise prudence on Ramsdale. The last three goals he conceded were all well-struck shots, but I did wonder about his positioning on each of them. A minor quibble in what has been an excellent start to his Arsenal career. His 88% save percentage speaks for itself.

  47. 47
    Cynic says:

    I just think if he was really that good, there would have been a speck of joy around when we signed him instead of blanket consternation. Now he’s here he is doing very well and I hope it continues. He carries a real presence, which is something Leno never did and something Martinez had that we missed after he left. I like to see a keeper who lets people know he’s there.

    Ramsdale reminds me a lot of a certain ex United keeper.

    Minus the racism. 😉

  48. 48
    bt8 says:

    Nuno done very well indeed. Thomas and Sambi very solid. Laca made our attack considerably more fluid. Lots of positive angles to this one. We’re sure to play worse next game.

  49. 49
    Noosa Gooner says:

    If we’d taken full points against Brighton and Palace we’d currently be sitting in 3rd place.
    Small margins between positivity and negativity.

  50. 50
    OsakaMatt says:

    May as well take the half-ton before
    the report comes in 😉

  51. 51
    Countryman100 says:

    Small ripple of applause goes round the ground.

  52. 52
    North Bank Ned says:

    Well in for the half-ton, OM.

  53. 53
    Bathgooner says: