Aston Villa travel to Arsenal in the fourth game that assistant manager Gary McAllister will be taking control of, having failed to win under the Scot in their previous three attempts. Despite having lost 3-1 to Stoke last time out, Arsene Wenger’s men are unbeaten in their last 11 games at the Emirates, although they have netted just 2 goals in their last 4 games at home. Villa welcome new signing Jean Makoun back to the squad after the midfielder recovered from a leg injury this week but will be without defender Ciaran Clark once again. The hosts welcome back a key player in Thomas Vermaelen who has been out of action for the entire season having suffered an achilles injury over nine months ago. The Belgian will replace Laurent Koscielny who picked up a thigh injury in the loss at the Britannia Stadium. Gabby Agbonlahor could return for the visitors after Emile Heskey’s bizarre behaviour against Wigan last time out, though McAllister could opt to play a 5-man midfield with the likes of the returning Makoun and Marc Albrighton both hoping for starts.
Centre-back Clark is the only absentee for Villa with Makoun and Agbonlahor recalled after being sidelined for the Wigan clash. It is unlikely that the Cameroon international will earn a start having missed much of training this week with a prolonged dead leg but Gabby could well come in to partner Bent.
Youngsters such as Fabian Delph, Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton and Nathan Delfouneso will all be vying for a chance to impress, as well as loanee Michael Bradley and former Arsenal icon Robert Pires. The likes of Hogg, Lowry, Lichaj and Weimann, who have all been away on loan of late, are all away at the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, along with first team starters this term Chris Herd and Nathan Baker.
Arsenal will hand late fitness tests to captain Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri but welcome back Gael Clichy following a hamstring problem. The Gunners will definitely be without Koscielny, paving the way for a Vermaelen comeback, and Abou Diaby is also missing which is good news for the visitors as the midfielder has netted 4 goals in his last 6 games against the Villans.
While Villa have all but secured safety from the league drop at the very least, Arsenal need the points to fight off a late challenge for an automatic Champions League spot and third place from Manchester City. The Londoners will be optimistic of a result with Villa having won just once in their last 24 trips to Arsenal, losing 15 times.
Despite being unbeaten in 11 home games, the hosts have won just 2 of their last 9 Premier League fixtures but in Robin van Persie, have a man bang in from. The flying Dutchman has scored 19 goals in 21 games in 2011 and has scored a goal every 99 minutes in the Premier League, a better record than any other player to have scored five or more goals.
Villa have kept just one clean sheet in their last 13 Premier League matches and have not kept a top-flight clean sheet away from home since winning 2-0 at Hull on 21 April 2010. Despite having a terrible away record at Arsenal, if Villa win this match, they will have picked more points than any other Premier League team at the Emirates.
Don’t expect any spectacular goals in this game as the Emirates is the only stadium in the Premier League that has not seen a single goal scored with a shot from outside the box this season. However, late drama could be on the cards as there has been a 90th minute goal scored in four of the last six meetings between Aston Villa and Arsenal.
Possible Starting XI: Friedel; Walker, Dunne, Collins, L Young; Albrighton, Petrov, A Young, Reo-Coker, Downing; Bent
Key Man: Nigel Reo-Coker
Final Score: 3-1
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