Another strong start against Manchester City only to come away with nothing. Regardless of how this season finishes the 2022-23 campaign has been a great step forward for both Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal squad. However, being able to finally get a league result over Pep Guardiola is a hurdle that remains on the checklist. Arsenal will get one more chance in late April when they visit Manchester City, but first, it’s Aston Villa on Saturday. Time to reset and refocus.
Aston Villa’s results have been up and down since the return from the World Cup break. A loss to Liverpool was followed by a 2-0 result over Tottenham (thanks for that) and a draw against Wolves. Then they were knocked out of the FA Cup by two late goals from League Two’s Stevenage. Back-to-back wins over Leeds United and Southampton followed by back-to-back losses to Leicester City and Manchester City.
To discuss Villa’s season, facing two Arsenal alumni, and the match we talked with Cole Pettem from SB Nation’s site on all things Aston Villa, 7500 to Holte.
TSF: Villa are currently 11th, three points behind Chelsea in tenth. The last time the club finished in the top half of the Premier League was the 2010-11 season. Based on what you’ve seen so far this year, do you believe that Unai Emery and this squad can move up into the top ten?
7500toHolte: It certainly has been a long time since Villa have finished within the top ten of the Premier League and it feels even longer when you think about the fact that the football club has gone through a relegation, near financial ruin, and bounced back to the Premier League within that timeline. Unfortunately, Emery’s impressive start to life at Villa Park won’t be enough to secure a top-10 finish this season – there are just too many quality sides that are due a good run of form heading into the rest of the season. Also, throw in the fact that Villa have had to name two goalkeepers to their bench for the last few games due to a bit of a January clear-out and injuries to the likes of Diego Carlos and the returning Bertrand Traore; it’s likely too much to ask for from a rather small squad.
TSF: Of the nine players Aston Villa brought so far this season, only Boubacar Kamara has played a prominent role. Which of the additions do you believe may have more of an impact in the second half of the season?
7500toHolte: Depending on when he returns to full training and is able to start league games again, Diego Carlos could play a massive role during the rest of the season. The experienced central defender was starting to form a promising partnership with Tyrone Mings prior to his injury at the early stage of the season and I could see him slowly capturing some of that form back if he can get the playing time needed to do so.
TSF: Unai Emery has been in charge at Villa for a few months now, how have you seen him change the style of play at the club? And what is the primary view of him from the Villa supporters?
7500toHolte: In terms of a playing style, Villa didn’t really have one under Steven Gerrard (the less said about that era, the better), so Emery’s ability to quickly organize this squad and solidify some problematic areas on the pitch has been very impressive. Playing out from the back has faltered at times and will surely improve once more recruits join the football club in the summer, but the nature of the pressing game when off the ball has been a noticeable change and has been effective on a game-to-game basis.
When it comes to Emery himself, it appears as though Villa have given him the keys to the kingdom – something that has needed to happen with a capable manager for years and the fan base is truly behind that notion as well. He’s a safe pair of hands as far as I’m concerned and it will be exciting to see how the football club develops under his tenure.
TSF: The other major character currently at Aston Villa with ties to Arsenal is of course Emi Martinez. What was the perception of Martinez before the World Cup, and how was it changed since returning as a winner?
7500toHolte: Martinez has quickly risen from questionable signing to an absolute fan favourite within the blink of an eye. Whether it was before the World Cup or after the closure of football’s grandest tournament, he’s seen as a cult hero in my eyes and his stock will only continue to rise when it comes to his transfer value. I’d like to see Martinez win trophies with Villa for years to come, but I also have to accept the fact he’ll likely be playing for a Champions League team in the future if a hefty bid is submitted.
TSF: Can you give us your predicted starting XI for this weekend’s match and what you think the final result will be?
7500toHolte: As expected, Emi Martinez will start in goal. I would like to see Ashley Young and Alex Moreno fill the full-back spots, with Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings as the central defenders (assuming Mings will be fit in time to play). From there, I would expect Boubacar Kamara and Douglas Luiz to fill our central midfield spots on Saturday, with Jacob Ramsey and Emi Buendia acting as wide midfielders/central attacking midfielders. I doubt it’ll happen, but I would absolutely love to see January signing, Jhon Duran, start up top alongside Ollie Watkins. Expect to see Leon Bailey partner Watkins on Saturday.
In terms of a score prediction, Arsenal are going to be looking for blood after losing to Manchester City on Wednesday. However, Emery will also be looking to prove a point against his former club, so we should hopefully be in for an interesting match on the weekend. I may be thinking with my heart more than my head here, but I’ll go for (and gladly take) a 2-2 draw.
Thanks to Cole Pettem and 7500 to Holte for taking some time to talk with us ahead of this weekend’s fixture.