The final countdown has begun to the big Premier League season kick off. For Aston Villa that takes place later today at The Emirates versus Arsenal, signalling the start of a daunting week for Paul Lambert’s men that includes a trip to Stamford Bridge and a visit to Villa Park from Liverpool.
The team that Lambert picks to face the Gunners will be really interesting, as there are a couple of places in the team really up for grabs. Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Westwood, Gabby, Benteke and Weimann are almost certain starters, leaving fou places available. Although I didn’t expect it myself, many were disappointed to see Sylla limp out of action against the West Ham U21s earlier in the week, as they saw him lining up alongside Westwood and Delph in a midfield three. If Lambert opts for a three man midfield against Arsene Wenger’s team then the probable replacement for Sylla is Karim El-Ahmadi. El-Ahmadi has had a fine pre-season, taking part in every game. I believe that even if Sylla was fit, El-Ahmadi would have been given the nod over him.
However, for the majority of pre-season Lambert went with the 4-2-3-1 formation and I expect him to carry on with that trend later today. It would be my guess that Ashley Westwood and either Karim El-Ahmadi or Fabian Delph will play in the deeper midfield roles, Benteke upfront with Gabby and Weimann supporting from the wide positions. That leaves the central attacking midfield position available. I think Tonev may be the surprise inclusion in the team. I saw him first hand versus Malaga and I was quite impressed with him. It was clear he was lacking in match sharpness, after missing around 80% of our pre-season action but those 70 or so minutes at Villa Park would have done him the world of good.
In that attacking midfield role he floated from flank to flank, his movement alone causing the Malaga defence problems. His passing wasn’t fantastic and his decision-making on the ball caused a few attacks to break down but that will improve. However, his pace, movement and shooting ability could be big advantages tomorrow. Arsenal will have the ball for large portions of the game so our counter attacking needs to be at its best. Look at the way Tonev picked out Benteke for the penalty against Malaga: he’s got a defence-splitting pass in him.
It’s been well known for a couple of seasons now that Arsenal’s weakness lies in their defence. I feel it would be a mistake to go to The Emirates and pack out the midfield. We need to go there and attack because that is what we are best at and Tonev will amplify that. I don’t think we need to fear being out-muscled in midfield versus Arsenal: as good as players like Cazorla, Wilshere and Ramsey may be they are not powerhouses. Press them high, something we have done all preseason, and we will win the ball back eventually.
Paul Lambert has said in his pre-match press conference that he plans to go there and attack, which is pleasing. I genuinely believe we have one of the most potent attacks in the league and we can really get some joy against Arsenal’s creaking, injury ridden back line.
Its going to be an exciting season!
By the way, superstitious souls out there, I cannot be held responsible if we lose and Arsenal keep a clean sheet later. Okay maybe I can, a bit.
Thanks for reading! UTV!