Aston Villa-Arsenal Preview
Arsenal are clicking into gear heading into their match versus Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger's Arsenal (11-6-5) are one point outside of the top four following a surge of good results in recent weeks. The Gunners have lost just one of their last seven, are through to the FA Cup fifth round and riding high on confidence after their 2-0 win over Manchester City last time out in the Premier League.
Arsenal's performance in the win over City was hugely impressive, not least because it came out of the blue following a run of dreadful results for Wenger's side against the league's top teams.
"You can see at the moment that the team is at a good level and it's now just a case of getting that in every single game and earning the right to win," Wenger said. "That means being committed in every single game. We have another opportunity to do that on Sunday and of course we know we are in front of a very important period.
"We know we have some ground to make up and the fight around the top four is very difficult. The target is consistency now."
Paul Lambert's Villa (5-7-10) are also through to the fifth round of the FA Cup thanks to wins over Blackpool and Bournemouth this month, and the cup run is offering a welcome respite from the club's struggles in the Premier League.
The Villans haven't won in seven league games, while goal-scoring has been a massive problem all season. Lambert's side haven't scored a goal in any of their last five and have just 11 goals this season - nine fewer than the next-lowest scorers in the division - but the club have insisted there is no doubt over the manager's position.
"I think football's a funny business and I think to put it all on the manager, again, that's a bit of a false narrative," Aston Villa chief executive Tom Fox said. "There's a lot of things happening at this football club, and clearly what happens on the pitch is a focal point.
"Clearly the manager is the one person who can really influence that, so everyone focuses on it. Our focus for the last couple of months has been on making sure we support Paul to make us as successful as possible, and I think we're heading in the right direction."
Both teams have been boosted in the transfer market this week. Arsenal brought in much-needed defensive reinforcements in the shape of Villarreal's highly-rated centre-back Gabriel Paulista, while Aston Villa's good news came in the shape of a new contract for key midfielder Fabian Delph.
"I think he is a captain in the making, he has got that personality," enthused Lambert about the England international. "He has a driving force and a hunger to succeed and he's definitely one that could do it."
Delph is one of a number of injury concerns for Saturday's game. Joe Cole, Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark and Gabriel Agbonlahor all face late fitness tests, while Philippe Senderos and Libor Kozak remain out. Arsenal are missing Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck are doubts.
Three goals in a four-minute burst saw Arsenal win 3-0 at Villa Park in September. That was the Gunners' third win over the Villans in the last four meetings.