Gabriel going through his paces
Gabriel going through his paces

Arsenal v Aston Villa: Match preview and note of caution from Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal take on Aston Villa in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium at lunch-time today.

The Gunners go into the match on 39 points having dropped to sixth position in the Premier League table following Tottenham’s win at West Bromwich Albion yesterday.

Aston Villa are currently 16th in the Premier League table on 22 points, just 3 points above the relegation places.

Arsene Wenger has rightly sounded a note of caution on Villa, who have won three times on their visits to the Emirates, drawn twice and only lost three times.

Last season, Villa won 3-1 on the opening day of the season. Whilst they rode their luck their fast counter-attacking football eventually earned them the win over 10-man Arsenal.

Laurent Koscielny was sent off in the first half after a foul in the penalty area, which Christian Benteke converted to give Villa the lead.

The real thorn in Arsenal’s side last season though was Gabby Agbonlahor, who hose pace and movement regularly causes the Gunners problems in this fixture.

Arsenal will want to negate the threat of Benteke and Agbonlahor on the counter-attack, and impose their passing game on Villa.

Arsenal go into the match chasing a fifth straight win in all competitions.

The return of Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil is timely given the likely absence of Alex Sanchez and Danny Welbeck.

Whilst Santi Cazorla should return in midfield after being rested for the visit to Brighton in the FA Cup last Sunday.

Arsene Wenger though does not want concentration levels to drift.

‘We want complete focus and commitment to be completely concentrated on what we want to achieve,’ said the Arsenal boss, who could be without Chile forward Alexis Sanchez because of a hamstring problem.

‘We have to be very cautious with the mood in our job because the swings are very quick.

‘You need a good balance between an optimistic mood and urgency as well.

‘We are in a job where, of course, you want the level of concentration very high and that is what we want to achieve now.

‘We go into a period in the next four months that will decide our season, so we have to be conscious that our commitment has to be 100 per cent.’

Wenger, however, insists there can be no sense of complacency at the Emirates Stadium against a Villa side who are the lowest scorers in the Premier League with just 11 from 22 matches as Paul Lambert’s men struggle to move up the table.

‘There is a distortion between the quality Villa have going forward [and their goal record],’ the Gunners boss said.

“When you look at the names they have on their team sheet, they have (Christian) Benteke, (Gabriel) Agbonlahor and (Andreas) Weimann, who can all score goals.

‘They suffered a lot from Agbonlahor’s injury after Benteke was out for a long time.

‘But when everybody’s there, it is a team who look quite dangerous going forward.’

Wojciech Szczesny was back in-goal against Brighton for the first time since the New Year’s Day defeat at Southampton, after which the Poland international was reported to have been smoking in the showers.

Wenger feels the 24-year-old has reacted positively to seeing Colombian David Ospina given a run in the side ahead of him.

He is 100 per cent committed in training and works harder than ever,’ said Wenger.

‘For me that is the most important when a player is questioned at some stage, how he responds shows you his strength of character, and on that front Wojciech has done extremely well until now.

‘At the moment, the competition is there. I just always have to make the decision who plays the next game.’

Arsenal Team News

Alexis Sanchez (hamstring) is doubtful, while new signing Gabriel Paulista could make the squad after joining from Villarreal.

England striker Danny Welbeck (thigh) is close to a return, but may not be risked, while midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) is also expected to come into contention ahead of the north-London derby at Tottenham next weekend.

Midfielders Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mikel Arteta (ankle) and Abou Diaby (calf) are all still out, as is full-back Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder).

Provisional squad: Ospina, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Chambers, Coquelin, Cazorla, Rosicky, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud, Szczesny, Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey, Flamini, Akpom, Gabriel, Sanchez.

Aston Villa Team News

Scott Sinclair is likely to go straight into Aston Villa’s squad for Sunday’s trip to Arsenal after joining on loan from Manchester City.

The winger will train with the side on Saturday before boss Paul Lambert makes a final decision on his inclusion.

Forward Gabriel Agbonlahor has recovered from a hamstring injury while Joe Cole (also hamstring) is training but not yet fit. Defenders Ron Vlaar (knee) and Philippe Senderos (calf) both remain out.

Provisional squad: Guzan, Given, Hutton, Lowton, Okore, Clark, Baker, Cissokho, Bacuna, Sanchez, Westwood, Delph, Richardson, Grealish, Sinclair, N’Zogbia, Cleverley, Gil, Agbonlahor, Weimann, Benteke, Robinson.

Key match stats (supplied by Opta)

Danny Welbeck has scored four goals in his last three Premier League starts against Aston Villa.

Christian Benteke has scored three goals in four Premier League appearances against Arsenal.

Chelsea and Man Utd (12 each) are the only visiting team to have earned more points at the Emirates Stadium than Aston Villa (11) in the Barclays Premier League (W3 D2 L3).

Arsenal have scored five goals in their last two Premier League games against Villa, all between the 32nd and 36th minutes.

The Gunners haven’t managed to win three Premier League games in a row this season.

Aston Villa have gone eight hours and 42 minutes of Premier League football since they last scored.

Currently on a run of five games without a goal, the Villains have never gone six league games in a row without scoring in their history.

Olivier Giroud has scored four goals in his last five Premier League appearances.

Only Derby (10 in 2007-08) have scored fewer goals after 22 matches of a Premier League season than Aston Villa have managed this campaign (11).

Aston Villa have fired in just 60 shots on target this season, fewer than any other team in the division