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The mighty Gunners now face their third match in six days in Saturday’s lunchtime fixture at Villa Park.  Until their midweek defeat by Liverpool, Arsenal had taken all 15 points on offer with five straight wins against mostly mid-table opposition.  Prior to each of those five matches I asked myself “Will this game be our banana skin?“; and I’m asking the same question today but seeing as Arsenal managed that stretch so well there has got to be cause for a modicum of guarded optimism.  That said, the Gunners will need to prove from the start that they have not lost their winning mentality after being bettered by one of two Premier League clubs that are in a league of their own.  But Arsenal must also show their durability to an extent they have not had to do recently, seeing as Cup defeats and Covid-related postponements gave them lengthy lulls between games at the start of the year.  In the 30 days preceding the Brentford match on February 19 Arsenal played only two times, which I would suggest is not the best way to build team stamina.  On the other hand, if Mikel Arteta saw evidence of tired legs against Liverpool, any inclination he might have to rest players will be tempered knowing that the Aston Villa match is critical to his team’s chances of finishing in the Champions League positions, and a two week international break follows before Arsenal play at Crystal Palace on April 4.

The Gunners won the reverse fixture in late October by 3-1 with goals by Partey, Smith Rowe and Aubameyang.  Needless to say they will not be able to rely on the Gabonese for any attacking firepower this time.  Villa put up little resistance on the day, responding only with a late consolation goal by Jacob Ramsey.  October’s game marked the first time in four matches that Arsenal managed to score a goal let alone take any points against the Villans, so the banana skin potential is there for all to see.  In three previous league meetings Arsenal were bested by a composite score of 0-5 including the 0-3 home loss in November 2020 when a Saka own goal resulted from consecutive Willian giveaways and a passive Arsenal defence.  Needless to say, Arsenal will not have Willian at their disposal this time either, and Saka will be playing right wing.  Quite an improvement overall I should say, and hopefully one that proves vital on the day.

The Opposition 

Since the Villans returned to the Premier League at the start of the 2019/20 season, the nearly perennial top-flighters have played Arsenal five times and emerged victorious thrice.  Exactly how Villa managed to deny us 9 of 15 points remains something of a mystery.  One possible explanation is that former manager Dean Smith must have been a genius, but the Villa brass must have thought otherwise because Smith was given the sack in November with the club sitting 16th in the table.  After Smith’s sacking one Villa fan’s remark was: “if your club relies on a single player for success then you weren’t in a good situation in the first place.”  That player was Jack Grealish, the talisman of Villa’s first two campaigns back in the Premier League, but he departed last Summer for the greener pastures of Manchester City.  It is fair to say the attacking creativity of Grealish was an important aspect of Villa’s success over the last few years so they may have been likely to struggle somewhat this season but it seemed harsh when Smith was sacked after only 11 league games.

Steven Gerrard, Smith’s successor, was given a three and a half-year contract through the summer of 2025, and gave the club a decent new manager bounce by winning 12 of the first 18 points on offer, with the two losses coming against Liverpool and Manchester City.   The 41-year-old Liverpool legend spent three and a half years at Rangers where he began his managerial career in 2018 after retiring as a player in 2016.  Last season Gerrard guided Rangers to their first Scottish Premiership title in 10 years but his loyalty to club and city was proved paper-thin when he jumped ship a few months later.  More than a few Villa fans may fear he could move again if offered the Liverpool job when Jurgen Klopp decides Merseyside’s attractions have waned.  But Gerrard does seem to have improved Villa’s performances.  Prior to his appointment in early November, Villa sat just two points above the relegation zone, and the club were without a win since September, but they have moved up seven spots in the table with Gerrard in charge.

Villa last played six days ago at West Ham where they lost 2-1.  Three days earlier at Leeds, goals from Coutinho, Cash and Calum Chambers helped the Villans to a 3-0 victory, which combined with their two prior wins against Southampton and Brighton gave Villa an impressive streak with nine goals scored and none conceded.  But their recent form is not all positive: In mid-February they gathered just one point in nine with a 3-3 home draw with Leeds and consecutive 1-0 defeats to Newcastle and Watford.  The Villa defence at West Ham featured 36 year old Ashley Young at left back as an 8th minute substitute for Lucas Digne (who suffered a hamstring strain), Calum Chambers and Tyrone Mings at center back, Matty Cash on the right, and Emi Martinez in goal.  John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey and Coutinho formed the midfield, with Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins at forward positions.  Ramsey scored a late goal after Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendía replaced Ings and Luiz but they were unable to complete the comeback from their two goal deficit.

The 29 year old Coutinho has been a boost to the Villa attack with four goals and three assists in nine appearances since his January signing from Barcelona.  Gerrard was effusive in his praise of Chambers who was signed from Arsenal in the January window, saying: “He’s been class, on and off the pitch (and) a real pleasure to work with.”  For the last several games Calum has been playing in the center-back role that was handled the rest of the season by Ezri Konsa, but I have to say it would be fun to see Gabi roasting Calum like a slab of Brazilian steak, leaving him pounding his fist into the turf after slipping in desperate retreat. 

The Arsenal XI

Mikel Arteta did not make any January signings and has not varied his starting eleven in recent memory, so it is difficult to predict that Saturday will be the day he alters his pattern of sticking to what has been successful.  Therefore I expect we will see the same faces we have seen recently.  Nicolas Pepe might be tapped to replace Bukayo Saka one of these games of course, but we haven’t seen it yet so these are the likeliest of suspects:


Cédric  White  Gabriel  Tierney

Partey  Xhaka

Saka  Ødegaard  Martinelli


The holics’ pound

Seeing as we were held goalless by Liverpool, and ten other clubs have conceded fewer goals this season than Aston Villa’s 39, the odds seem to favour Arsenal putting a couple into the net so I am predicting Arsenal to prevail with their organs intact at the very least, and, what’s more, to achieve a narrow 2-1 victory.  Please let it be so, those with the power to do anything about it.  

Which reminds me to mention that the referee will be Andy Madley, whose place of birth was Huddersfield (where all the referees come from, I believe).  Show us your biceps after you’ve awarded us a penalty, Andy!

Enjoy the game, ‘holics.

80 Drinks to “Mustering a Mastering of Mere Mortals”

  1. 1
    TTG says:

    Great preview Bt8 and I’d absolutely love us to triumph 2-1. It would be a huge lift after Wednesday and three vital points . We might also hope the Totts and Hammers draw.It will be a tough match at Villa. Watkins always does well against us but the player we must subdue is Coutinho who looks in prime form.
    My heart says 2-1 and it’s a sensible enough shout for my head to agree. This game will tell us much about the character of the side and our bouncebackability . COYG!

  2. 2
    Esso says:

    Cheers Bt8!

  3. 3
  4. 4
    North Bank Ned says:

    Masterfully mustered, bt8. Three points anyhoo will do.

    TTG@the previous drinks: We see Ramsdale game in, game out. He is under the microscope and we see every blemish, more so than with other keepers, I suspect.

  5. 5
    Bathgooner says:

    An excellent preview, bt8 in which you outline well the patchy record of our opponents since the detestable Gerrard joined them. I’d love to see him in tears again.

    In essence, I think that the outcome of this game depends mainly on how well we bounce back from the inevitable disappointment of the result on Wednesday. Can we produce the same level of performance both with and without the ball and eliminate the errors that cost us that match? Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with defeat after such a mammoth effort but that is the distinguishing feature of a top professional. Let’s see how well our young team can match that standard. I reckon they can do it.


  6. 6
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Excellent preview bt8.

    A win to bounce back, especially just before the international break, will do wonders to the confidence and morale.
    I think Tomi is being handled gently and will probably stay back over the interlull to recover better and come back playing to his best, and his very good is rather excellent. A right side of Tomi-Ødegaard-Saka would allow the latter two to be more aggressive in their positioning. Cedric has been fine though, but his limitations were exposed against ‘Pool.

    Hope we continue to play as we have been playing.

    As for the starting eleven, will Laca have the legs for three matches in 6 days? Gabi down the middle and ESR on the left?

  7. 7
    Las says:

    Excellent preview, thanks bt8!
    I agree, we don’t have much room for experimental team selection.
    But I would like to see more from Pepe. I think he could be an impact sub just like ESR if he could be given more pitchtime.
    2:1 for the good guys is fine fir me.

  8. 8
    ClockEndRider says:

    Great review, bt8. I fancy goals for both sides, too. Your 2-1 looks about right.
    Esso, thanks for providing a superb way to start the day on a wonderfully sunny Saturday morn here in London.

  9. 9
    Uplympian says:

    A very fine & fulsome match preview bt8.
    This will be another realistic test to our ambition of a top 4 finish this season – the ability to bounce back from a disappointing ( but not unexpected ) result combined with a relative short turnaround. We’re up against a tricky Villa side who can be inconsistent – let’s hope it’s one of their poorer days. They do have players who can hurt us – Watson, Coutinho and Ramsey – we need to be on top of our game to negate their threat. I suspect there will be little change from the favoured XI, subject to their fitness levels.
    I go along with the favoured 2-1 scoreline – to the good guys of course. I’m at a function this lunchtime so I expect the prostate will be playing up requiring frequent visits to the cloakroom 😉

  10. 10
    Trev says:

    Thanks bt8 for a fine and fulsome preview indeed !

    Well said Uply, I rather like “fine and fulsome !”

    I agree with Dr F on selection. Lacazette has been working his socks off for the team and done a great job, but Wednesday evening appeared to have caught up with him a bit. A third game in six days for the poor old boy could well be a bridge too far, and we do have ESR champing at the bit to add his instant drive and pace to the team.

    Talking of a bridge too far, could we all just take a minute to have a bloody good laugh at Chelsea – the ultimate pretenders – before someone even richer than the other bloke takes over.

    Come on you Reds – the much favoured 2-1 win would do very nicely 👍🏻

  11. 11
    Trev says:

    21 Century Gooner,
    Thanks for the Liverpool report – great job!
    I didn’t have time to read it before – got hit by a little spate of necks that needed fixing urgently. Suddenly, here we are with another match to start -,preview up, previous report gone ! How did Dave ever do it all on his own ?

  12. 12
    Trev says:

    Esso ! Thank you for the music 👍🏻😀

  13. 13
    OsakaMatt says:

    Great stuff, thanks bt8.
    2-0 to The Arsenal is my plump of choice.

    TTG, C100 – I hear you on our young men in the England squad in the last drinks. I hope Saka’s minutes at least are well-managed.

  14. 14
    North Bank Ned says:

    No Ramsdale or Martinelli against Villa. Injuries? Illness?

  15. 15
    North Bank Ned says:

    Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tierney
    Thomas, Xhaka,
    Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    Bench: Okonkwo, Holding, Tavares, Swanson, Elneny, Lokonga, Hutchinson, Pepe, Nketiah

  17. 17
    Ollie says:

    Cheers bt8. The alliteration in the title ieads me indirectly to say ‘let’s obliterate the Villa’.
    But I’ll take 2-1 too.

  18. 18
    Ollie says:

    Ned @14 : hip injury for Ramsdale, illness for Martinelli.

  19. 19
    North Bank Ned says:

    BBC says Ramsdale has a hip injury and Gabi is ill.

  20. 20
    North Bank Ned says:

    You beat me to it, Ollie.

  21. 21
    bt8 says:

    Ollie. Let’s obliterate the Villa.

  22. 22
    bt8 says:

    Come on Leno and come on Smith Ro.

  23. 23
    bt8 says:

    Let. ‘s. obliterate. the. Villa.

  24. 24
    bt8 says:

    Didn’t mean to give ESR short shrift.

    Come on Smith Rowe. Come on Leno.
    And on the bench … Come on Nuno and Nico.

  25. 25
    bt8 says:

    Come on Bukayo.

  26. 26
    bt8 says:

    No Gabi and no Calum in the lineups so I could have picked a better picture. Imagine it’s Laca and Emi Martínez up top instead, doing the handshake Laca and Auba used to do in their goal celebration.

  27. 27
    Bathgooner says:


  28. 28
    OsakaMatt says:

    At least we have good replacements in Leno and ESR

  29. 29
    ClockEndRider says:

    Strong start. Laca a bit slack in terms of control

  30. 30
    ClockEndRider says:

    How have we not scored?

  31. 31
    Bathgooner says:

    Looking good but we MUST score one of these chances whilst we are dominating.

  32. 32
    Bathgooner says:

    Fantastic interception from Ben White.

  33. 33
    Bathgooner says:

    We HAVE to score here.

  34. 34
    ClockEndRider says:

    That’s 2 fouls on ESR already.

  35. 35
    ClockEndRider says:

    Ashley Young is going to get the same treatment as Terence Trent Darby the other night….

  36. 36
    ClockEndRider says:


  37. 37
    Gooner_KS says:

    I guess Saka heard you guys
    Get iiiiin

  38. 38
    ClockEndRider says:

    He’s got t9 go surely?

  39. 39
    ClockEndRider says:


  40. 40
    Gooner_KS says:

    He kept sliding on purpose, effin VAR

  41. 41
    ClockEndRider says:

    Yet again Saka gets no referee protection. So being an England international is no protection if you play for Arsenal.

  42. 42
    ClockEndRider says:

    So now the compulsory scouse co commentator wants to focus on holding at the corner by Partey. Pure distraction from the ridiculous non sending off of Mings.

  43. 43
    ClockEndRider says:

    Here we go, so Xhaka gets a booking for nothing. Same penalty as Mings. well done, referee.

  44. 44
    Gooner_KS says:

    Again flying high foot by Cash, no card of course

  45. 45
    ClockEndRider says:

    X celle t first half, a hoary from Laca who I thought was pretty woeful. Need at least 1 more goal to prevent the referee from levelling this up.

  46. 46
    ClockEndRider says:

    Excellent….apart from….

  47. 47
    Bathgooner says:

    What CER almost said at 45!

  48. 48
    ClockEndRider says:

    I will learn to type one day….

  49. 49
    bt8 says:

    Agree with CER’s second sentence @45. This ref might do anything so we have to kept it out of his hands. Martin/Thomas completely dominating the midfield.

  50. 50
    bt8 says:

    It’s been refreshing to see Leno. May he play a second half blinder but may the rest of the team not force him into it.

    Was that an assist for Ben White touching it back for Saka?

  51. 51
    ClockEndRider says:

    Saka a bit leggy there I thought. Not a criticism

  52. 52
    bt8 says:

    Should have found a pass

  53. 53
    ClockEndRider says:

    Good opportunity there from a poor giveaway at the other end by MÖ

  54. 54
    ClockEndRider says:

    Saka is brilliant. I think he’s leggy from Wednesday but tearing Divey Young apart

  55. 55
    Gooner_KS says:

    The ref is so generous with cards against us 🤬

  56. 56
    Cynic says:

    Got a bad feeling about this game, we need at least one more goal.

    Leno’s kicking has been appalling by the way

  57. 57
    ClockEndRider says:

    Cedric, what are you doing?!

  58. 58
    ClockEndRider says:

    Laca has been bloody awful.

  59. 59
    Gooner_KS says:

    How many fouls Cash needs to make for a booking? F…off ref

  60. 60
    ClockEndRider says:

    Eddie seemingly picking up where Laca left off.

  61. 61
    ClockEndRider says:

    Excellent win. From a clearly tired side.

  62. 62
    Ollie says:

    I’ll take that. Tough win but important three points. Hopefully some of the team can rest during the international break.

  63. 63
    bt8 says:

    Well deserved clean sheet, a huge three points, and a chance for Laca and company to rest their tired bones over the next 2 weeks. What’s not to like? 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  64. 64
    bt8 says:

    Re: Cynic no argument about Ramsdale being our number one but I think Arteta made a good choice with Leno on the day. We won, by the way.

  65. 65
    bathgooner says:

    A massive, massive win earned by top level performances all round until the subs came on. Saka was superb and deserved his goal for not only his skill but for having to put up with persistent fouling and limited protection from an inept referee. Leno confirmed that he is still a top keeper. Midfield was superb. Defence was strong.

    Pepe was embarrassingly inept. What a clown! He was so poor that he made Nketiah look half decent.

    Should have been 3-0 up at HT but controlled the second half very well. Such a great win!

  66. 66
    scruzgooner says:

    outstanding win. will lead to much grappa. and fine preview, bt8, very funny 🙂

  67. 67
    Cynic says:

    A game we controlled but always had that feeling it would be a sickener in the end. But it wasn’t.

  68. 68
    bathgooner says:

    I have to observe (pace TTG) that over the last four or five matches, Xhaka has looked head and shoulders above Douglas Luiz and Ruben Neves, both with and without the ball. Both have been widely touted as players to replace him and improve our midfield. Not sure that they would.

  69. 69
    North Bank Ned says:

    We desperately need a goal-scorer to put these sorts of games to bed. We should have been at least a couple in front within the first half hour and controlling the game comfortably from there on in. Watching was increasingly nervous-making towards the end. The upside is three points from a team looking weary from three games in a week (Laca looked completed cream crackered) but still able to dig out a performance when needed. Rest, recover and onwards to Palace.

  70. 70
    Ollie says:

    Yep, all of this, Ned.

  71. 71
    North Bank Ned says:

    bath@68: fair point. It was noticeable that in Martinelli’s absence, Tierney was advancing up the left-wing more, with Xhaka dropping deeper to cover when he did.

    Saka appeared to play the second half with his right ankle strapped. He could do with two weeks of rest, rather than international duty.

    CER@42: The wizened old pro colour commentator on my stream was Irish rather than Scouse, but argued every time Cash was not booked for a foul, that it showed that Mings shouldn’t have been booked for ploughing into Saka. Straight-leg, studs-up tackles are part of the game and not intended to injure, I was informed, so shouldn’t be yellow carded. Unbelievable.

  72. 72
    Olivier says:

    Also agree with baff@65. I was very disappointed with Pépé, expecred a lot more but all I remember him doing was making silly fouls or losing the ball.

  73. 73
    Esso says:

    Great result! Absolute fucking joke of a ref. The Granit booking was pathetic. ” 1, 2, 3, !”. It was his first fucking foul of the game. Something needs to be done about such obvious bias. And then you get twats like Beglin punditting on the stream I got – speculating on him getting 2 yellows and sent off for walking away.


    Anyways I am now recovered from Covid and on the piss for the rest of today.


  74. 74
    TTG says:

    Terrific result . The defence and the team cohesion were excellent . I’m fond of Laca but I do hope we don’t give him another contract. He’s not going to get any better and he’s scored four goals this season, two of them penalties . Cameos by Pepe and Nketiah were eccentric to say the least!
    But so much was positive . It was ridiculous to book Xhaka and ignore persistent fouling by Cash . Xhaka was at his best, playing sensibly and Partey looks exactly the player we thought we were buying . Given the fact we’d played a very hard game on Wednesday night and Villa at home had a week off we controlled the game well. Great effort by the team !

  75. 75
    North Bank Ned says:

    Also great effort by the travelling support. Their singing again came through loud and clear on my stream, especially during the backs-to-the-wall final few minutes. Terrific stuff.

  76. 76
  77. 77
  78. 78
    Gooner_KS says:

    As much as I love Laca, wouldn’t give him even a 1 yr contract. Almost guaranteed he won’t be able to come near his this year’s performance, not that that was close to what we need and what was required. His blocked shot before getting subbed was crying to be layed out to Mø who was in a great position and likely would have scored, and game settled.

  79. 79
    bt8 says:

    Cheers, Esso. You always brighten the bar. 😃

  80. 80
    Bathgooner says: