Newly re-crisised Arsenal travel to the Midlands' largest city for another road test against Birmingham's sole Premier League representative in this year's campaign. Aston Villa currently sit 10th in the league table under first-year manager (and friend of the blog*) Alex McLeish, ten points behind Arsenal largely due to their propensity for ending up with the same number of goals as their opposition, rather than more.
We have had issues with McLeish sides before, but we've also beaten his Birmingham quite convincingly, sometimes both in the same season (too soon for last year?), so it's tough to predict an exact outcome. Villa have been mediocre, but not really bad; negative, but not dogmatically so. I watched them draw at QPR in September, and they are really just a confusing team. At times they showed some danger in attack, but had troubles breaking through the QPR defense (their one goal game from a hilariously inept penalty committed by friend of the blog Armand Traore** and scored by elven hero Barry Bannan). They were decent in defense, but ended up giving away their lead through an equalizer that I and all of Twitter saw coming ten minutes ahead of time. Am I confused because I've only seen them once? Maybe. But from my research (i.e. reading some 7500 to Holte) they look and sound like a team that doesn't really know what they are, and doesn't really have a defining strength like Manchester City's attack, or Stoke's ability to throw the ball really far and occasionally kill an opposing player (sorry).
Gabriel Agbonlahor and his awesome name should be fit to face us, so that's a positive for the Villains. Darren Bent however, appears to still have some Christmas shopping to do, so he won't be playing. Bent scored twice the last time we played Aston Villa, so I won't miss him. Emile Heskey also will miss the match, as will Chris Herd and possibly James Collins, who has a late test.
For Arsenal, the drumbeat of players becoming unavailable continues. You are of course aware of the fullback crisis; it has deepened, as Johan Djourou will likely be out up to three weeks with a groin injury incurred at the Etihad Stadium Sunday. So it goes. It's likely that this means Ignasi Miquel will get the start at left back (because who the hell else would), with the Vermaertesacker center and Laurent Koscielny on the right side. There had been whispers that Kieran Gibbs would be fit to play, but it's now sounding like that's unlikely (and after an extended time off, he probably wouldn't have made it 90 minutes anyway). Alex Song will miss the match due to a one-game suspension from yellow card accumulation, so either Emmanuel Frimpong or Francis Coquelin will slot in his midfield spot. I feel better at the moment about Le Coq, but Frimmers may get the nod just so we make sure, with Djourou and Song out, that there's at least one mohawk in the squad. There was concern that Mikel Arteta had suffered the same fate, but it's been confirmed that he has only four bookings to his name, and is thus available.
I would ask, though, whether it's in our best interests to play our top-strength midfield Wednesday. (With Song out the answer is likely "yes," but let me tell you my reasons.) Our fixture list is starting to become congested, with the traditionally bloated holiday lineup of matches. None of the sides we play for the next month are too tough until Manchester United visit on 22 January, but none are pushovers either. At some point in the near future (possibly tomorrow, but not necessarily), we need to start rotating some players. Arteta and Aaron Ramsey have played a lot this year, and I'm particularly concerned about Ramsey breaking down, considering the fact that this time last year he was at Nottingham Forest not playing more than about 60 minutes a game. Other players are also likely nearing Wenger's "red zone," and this would be a good time to get some fringe-ish players like Yossi Benayoun and Tomas Rosicky playing time with some first-team players, rather than as part of our goon squad. On the other hand, I'd rather rest no more than one player at a time from each unit (defense, midfield, attack), and with Song out, perhaps it's just going to be a legally-enforced rest for him.
Koscielny - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Miquel
Arteta - Coquelin
Benayoun (or Ramsey)
AOC - van Persie - Gervinho
Absolutely nothing interesting happens for 90 minutes. Arteta and Gervinho score completely run-of-the-mill goals, and neither team threatens much beyond that. Arshavin tries to warm up and enter the game to "liven it up :))))))))," but Pat Rice tackles him and handcuffs him to a stanchion. Arshavin giggles uncontrollably. Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal