Dead last with just six points from fifteen games, Villa are in real danger of being cut adrift. Sunderland have improved under Allardyce and even Newcastle managed to win a match last weekend, meaning Villa are now eight points from safety with the worst goal difference in the league. Now is possibly the worst time to be facing Arsenal, who pulled off the improbable against Olympiakos and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League. The Gunners will be in a buoyant mood despite the injuries that have left their squad looking a little threadbare. Besides, if results go their way on Saturday a win at Villa Park will send them top for at least 24 hours.
One of the unsung heroes of the league, Monreal is an integral part of this Arsenal side. Statistically, in fact, when Monreal plays poorly the Gunners fail to win. For all the plaudits currently being sent Koscielny’s way, it is the left back who is one of the most improved players this season. His skills even extend to oranges, proof of his status as an elite footballer (I decided to try putting away my shopping with my feet too. Probably shouldn’t have attempted it with eggs).
With an assist in each of his last two appearances, Veretout is starting to look like the player Aston Villa thought they were buying in the summer. Under Sherwood, the Frenchman looked off the pace and out of his depth but new boss Remi Garde seems to be coaxing better performances out of him. With Idrissa Gueye and Carlos Sánchez, Veretout is part of an increasingly competent midfield for Villa. The question is, can they turn the results around? Arsenal’s injury crisis has affected their central midfield more than any other position and with players like Coquelin absent perhaps this Villan midfield has a chance to dominate.
The hattrick hero of Tuesday night, Giroud will be relishing the thought of playing against a Villa side who have conceded 28 goals in 15 games. The Frenchman has had to battle with Theo Walcott at times for that lone striker role, but on the back of his heroics against Olympiakos (and Walcott’s very average performance) Giroud is probably safe for now. There has often been a sense that Giroud isn’t of the same quality as some of his teammates, especially Özil and Sanchez—but if he keeps this up it’ll be hard to argue that any longer.
One of Villa’s players who was unhappy to see Sherwood given the boot, Grealish hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Remi Garde thus far. His new boss was irritated enough by his antics that Grealish was demoted from the first team ‘indefinitely’. It looks like the young Englishman’s purgatory is over however—a chance to show the quality that won him recognition last season, perhaps?