Sunday, January 12, 2014

Aston Villa - Arsenal Preview: Gunners can return to the top with victory

Nicklas Bendtner Arsenal v Cardiff City - English Premier League 01012013
Few would have predicted Arsenal emerging as serious title contenders when they lost 3-1 to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.

However, as the sides prepare to meet in the reverse fixture at Villa Park on Monday, Arsene Wenger's men have the opportunity to end another round of fixtures as leaders of the Premier League.

The Gunners were knocked off top spot by Chelsea on Saturday, but know three points against Villa will secure a return to the summit.

Villa's shock victory back in August will have provided optimism for the club's fans, but Paul Lambert's men have picked up just five wins in 19 subsequent Premier League fixtures.

However, they halted a five-game winless run by triumphing 1-0 at Sunderland in their last league game.

Villa will be especially keen to pick up a morale-boosting victory on Monday having been dumped out of the FA Cup by League One Sheffield United last weekend.

Arsenal's cup campaign got off to the best possible start as they beat local rivals Tottenham 2-0 last Saturday.

Wenger's side have also won their last three on the bounce in the league, beating West Ham, Newcastle United and Cardiff City.

Arsenal are troubled by a lengthy injury list, though, and go into the Villa game without Theo Walcott, who has been ruled out for the season after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Nicklas Bendtner (ankle) and Abou Diaby (knee).

Kieran Gibbs (calf) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh) remain doubtful, but Wenger is more hopeful over the potential availability of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), who has not featured since Arsenal last faced Villa.

"I wouldn't have any hesitation on playing Oxlade-Chamberlain against Aston Villa," the Frenchman said ahead of the clash.

Ron Vlaar (calf) and Nathan Baker (hamstring) face late fitness tests for Villa, while Gabriel Agbonlahor and Brad Guzan should be fit after shrugging off niggles.

Chris Herd (hamstring) and Joe Bennett (back), who resumed full training on Friday, are likely to remain sidelined.

Libor Kozak (broken leg), Jores Okore (knee) and Charles N'Zogbia (Achilles) are long-term absentees.

Aston Villa - Arsenal Preview: Gunners can return to the top with victory Rating: 4.5 Posted by: Unknown

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