Aston Villa v Arsenal, Premier League, January 27, 2010
It may be a trifle disrespectful to question Arsene Wenger, such has been his impact on the English game, but this match is undoubtedly a test of the decision making skills of â€œThe Professor.â€ The Arsenal boss made wholesale changes for the trip to Stoke on Sunday in the midst of a massive period of the campaign and following their FA Cup exit the Gunners need to regain some momentum at Aston Villa, a club with eyes on Wembley and the Carling Cup final. (Villa are 13/8 to win the Carling Cup.)
Arsenal were pretty poor at the Britannia on Sunday from the first minute when they conceded from a Rory Delap special. The Young Guns failed to show the cup form they have produced in recent seasons with Carlos Vela and Theo Walcott marked as the fall guys for disappointing performances. The defence featuring Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre and the woeful Armand Traore failed to cover themselves in glory and there will be wholesale changes for the visit to Villa Park. (Arsenal are EVS to keep a clean sheet, 30/100 against.)
Wenger revealed after the defeat at Stoke that Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas would not have been fit anyway but we can expect them to appear at Villa Park. Without long term absentee Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin and Eduardo will be the main attacking threats with Cesc Fabregas prompting from behind. (Arsenal are 4/1 to win both halves.)
Villa will be well aware of the damage that Fabregas can cause, it was only a month ago that the Spanish playmaker destroyed Villa with a 27 minute cameo that suggested he could lead the Arsenal to the title. The Gunners are going great guns in the league, with seven victories in their last nine matches and after briefly going top last week should have the desire to heap more pressure on title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United.
The home side will be keen to halt a poor run of form in the Premier League that has seen them slip out of contention for a top four place. Martin Oâ€™Neill will be well aware that there are echoes from last season when Villa fell away in the race for a Champions League spot in the second half of the season due to involvement in other competitions. (Villa re 9/2 to finish in the top four.)
The 3-0 reverse at the Emirates was swiftly followed by home defeat to Liverpool and then a 0-0 draw with West Ham. Villa may be scoring for fun in the cup competitions (nine in the last two matches) but are now without a goal in the league for over three games. (Villa are 12/1 to win both halves.)
Oâ€™Neill made plenty of changes to the side that beat Brighton on Saturday and this may well be a bad time for Arsenal to face Villa with the whole club lifted by their first trip to Wembley in 10 years after that epic 10-goal thriller of a second leg against Blackburn a week ago.
Oâ€™Neillâ€™s main injury worries are over Stephen Warnock and Stiliyan Petrov, whilst Abou Diaby and Nicklas Bendtner are a little off being fully fit for this one for Arsenal. The game may also come a little early for Emmanuel Eboue and Alexandre Song who are heading home after their respective Africa Cup of Nations exits.
All eyes will be on Old Trafford on Wednesday night for the second leg of the Carling Cup, but this match could well be a humdinger. (20/21 to be under 2.5 goals, EVS to be over.) Villa will seriously test Arsenalâ€™s title credentials and with Manchester United coming up on Sunday, Arsene Wenger may well feel a draw would be a good result.
101gg predicts: Aston Villa 2 â€“ Arsenal 2 (16/1)
Full match odds here.