Mikel Arteta knows the most important thing right now is to focus on getting back on track against Aston Villa this weekend. The club has been on a great run and had an entertaining opening 40 minutes against Wolves. Missing Bernd Leno, and potentially Kieran Tierney once again, will hurt, but the Gunners have more than enough to rebound from Tuesday’s loss to pick up a crucial three points.
The last two times Arsenal lost they responded with a pair of 3-1 victories in the Premier League (over Chelsea and Southampton). Villa is currently 9th, one spot above Arsenal, with two matches in hand, but have had a dip in form (2W-5L-1D) since they beat the Gunners 3-0 back in early November. With at least two starters from the last match missing, lingering injury issues, and several interesting attacking bench options, how much will Arteta adjust the starting XI for Saturday’s contest against Villa?
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Martin Ødegaard
- Mohamed Elneny
- Dani Ceballos
- Calum Chambers
- Pablo Mari
- Mathew Ryan
- Left Out: Eddie Nketiah & Reiss Nelson
- Out: Bernd Leno (red card), David Luiz (red card), & Kieran Tierney (leg)
- The front four played a great first half against Wolves and could have easily been up two or three-nil by halftime. What happened afterward shouldn’t take away from that performance as each has earned a start again on Saturday. Saka nearly scored in the opening minute and along with Smith Rowe have been such an energetic boost to this squad.
- Lacazette has reestablished himself as Arsenal’s main striker, 10 goals so far this year, and Pepe has now scored in three straight Premier League road matches. Both have, at least for the moment, silenced the critics (and sometimes fans) that love to give both of them grief. That quartet consists of three out of Arsenal’s top four scorers this season and all four of the assist leaders. Aubameyang probably needs another match before his fitness is ready for a potential full 90 once again, but honestly, none of the attacking four deserve to be dropped if they are fit right now.
- We know Arsenal will be without Leno, as such Runarsson (or Ryan if he is fully fit) need as strong of a defensive base as Arteta can provide. That means Xhaka-Partey pair once again in midfield, with Holding-Bellerin on the right side of the backline. With Luiz out as well, Gabriel comes back into the starting lineup while we wait to see when Pablo Mari will regain fitness. It would be great if Tierney is available in place of Cedric, but as of Thursday, his status remains doubtful. Arsenal finally have a week off between matches after Villa, so if not Saturday, hopefully, we see Tierney return against Leeds on the 14th.
- A bench consisting of Aubameyang, Martinelli, and Ødegaard is the level of attacking depth we’ve been looking for over the past few seasons. If Mari isn’t available I’d expect Nketiah to edge out Nelson, but both the academy graduates seem at the bottom of Arteta’s list at the moment.
- With Ryan unable to train yet, it seems unlikely that Arteta gets him for Saturday. Perhaps he is pushed into the bench as an emergency, but if not look for Arthur Okonkwo or Karl Hein from the U23s to be pulled in for the substitutes.
How to watch
Saturday (2/6) at 7:30 am ET / 4:30 am PT on NBCSN.
Arsenal - 2
Aston Villa - 1