When Aston Villa ran out 3-1 winners at the Emirates on a sunny August opening day of the 2013/14 Premier League season, few would have predicted that an Arsenal victory in the return fixture in mid-January would put the Gunners top of the league.
Similarly, many watching Villa’s stunning opening day performance would have understandably come to the conclusion that Paul Lambert’s side would enjoy a relatively stress-free season following their nervy previous campaign.
But while they may lie in 11th place, the nerve-shreddingly tight nature of the bottom half of the league this season means that a loss for Villa would leave them only six points from the relegation zone.
A Gabby Agbonlahor winner away at Sunderland last time round may have eased some of the pressure on Lambert, but the fact remains they have not won infront of their home fans for five games in all competitions.
And in a season that has seen one of last year’s top performers, Christian Benteke (who scored two of Villa’s three goals at the Emirates), struggle to replicate the same form, Villa have scored only two goals in those five. It leaves their task on Monday night a particularly daunting one (they are 5/1 to win) against an Arsenal side (3/5) who have built their impressive campaign on defensive stability.
So while Theo Walcott’s season-ending ligament damage continued something of an injury crisis at Arsenal, with Aaron Ramsey, Nicklas Bendtner and Thomas Vermaelen also out, their first choice back five remains unharmed.
After the aberration of shipping six at Man City, Arsenal have seen just the one go past Wojciech Szczesny in their five games since, recording four wins on the trot since their home 0-0 draw with Chelsea. It means the Arsenal clean sheet at 27/20 a solid punt, with the away win to nil (17/10) the pick of the bunch.
Olivier Giroud has been passed fit and remains the away side’s best chance of a goal following Walcott’s absence, with the Frenchman 7/2 to score first. Alternatively, Arsene Wenger has recently lauded the finishing prowess of the returning Lukas Podolski, and should the German get a start he can be backed at 11/2 to open the scoring.
Putting aside recent form, history doesn’t give the home side much hope either, as Villa haven’t beaten Arsenal at home in 16 years, while the Gunners have won six of their last ten meetings in all competitions with Villa.
Optimistic Villa fans have some grounds to tip the draw (3/1), with three of their last five meetings at Villa Park having ended in a stalemate.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.