Aston Villa and Arsenal lock horns at Villa Park in Saturday's curtain-raiser from the Premier League. Mark O'Haire shares his favourite fancy...
"There have been 38 goals in the last 11 meetings between the two teams with 16 of their previous 20 head-to-head encounters rewarding Over 2.5 Goals backers"
Aston Villa v Arsenal
Saturday February 6, 12:30
Smith irked by Villa's no-show
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith fumed at his side's "Sunday League football" defending after watching the Villains go down 3-1 at home to West Ham on Wednesday night. Three separate counter-attacking goals from Tomas Soucek and a double from Hammers debutant Jesse Lingard did all the damage with Ollie Watkins striking what proved to be a mere consolation.
The result was the Second City club's first defeat in four games at Villa Park, leaving Smith's side ninth in the Premier League table. And the Villa supremo pulled no punches post-match, saying: "Three horrendous goals we gave away. We didn't play well. The better team won on the night and we weren't our usual selves nor did we play with our usual tempo."
Aston Villa were sluggish, slow and seriously void of ideas as they contested their third match within seven days, and Smith suggested he might need to freshen things up for the weekend's encounter. Anwar El Ghazi had come in for Bertrand Traore against West Ham, Villa's only change to their starting XI across their most recent five Premier League outings.
Arsenal undone by red cards at Wolves
Arsenal had two players sent off as they threw away a lead and lost to Wolves 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Gunners, who had earlier hit the woodwork twice and had a goal disallowed, went ahead when Nicolas Pepe curled a fine finish home. But Arsenal were reduced to 10 men when David Luiz was adjudged to have brought down Willian Jose.
Wolves equalised with the resulting penalty in first-half injury time and Joao Moutinho scored a second with a brilliant strike from 30 yards to put the hosts ahead soon after the restart. However, Arsenal were then reduced to nine men as goalkeeper Bernd Leno handled the ball outside of his penalty area after racing out trying to deny Adama Traore.
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta criticised the referee's decision to send Luiz off, a major turning point in the contest. The capital club had been completely in command beforehand, arguably producing their best 45-minute performance of the season.
Centre-back Gabriel and third-choice goalkeeper Runar Runarsson are expected to start in place of the suspended pair on Saturday, whilst club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may return to the starting XI after featuring off the bench in midweek.
Aston Villa have taken top honours in each of their past two Premier League showdowns with Arsenal, earning an impressive 3-0 success at The Emirates when the duo crossed paths in November. The two triumphs ended a six-game sequence of successive Gunners' league victories in this fixture with Arsenal going W10-D6-L1 at Villa Park this century.
Having been chalked up as third-favourites for relegation pre-season, Aston Villa 2.707/4 have been one of the Premier League's surprise packages. However, since opening their account with four wins on the spin, Villa have found consistency hard to find, posting W6-D2-L8 in their following 16 encounters - that includes an unedifying W2-D1-L4 return at Villa Park.
Arsenal 2.767/4 have been the source of great consternation at times this term, although there have been small signs of progression since Christmas. Defeat to Wolves was the Gunners' first in eight (W5-D2-L1) and Mikel Arteta's men have started to look threatening in final-third once more, whilst continuing to work from a reasonable solid foundation.
Matches between Aston Villa and Arsenal have traditionally been high-scoring affairs. There have been 38 goals in the last 11 meetings between the two teams with 16 of their previous 20 head-to-head encounters rewarding Over 2.5 Goals 1.705/7 backers, and a repeat could again be on the cards on Saturday.
Aston Villa were noticeably fatigued on Wednesday night and face a quick turnaround with a rest disadvantage against the Gunners. A weighty proportion of the Villains' clean sheets have been kept against the bottom-third in the division but it's worth noting that Dean Smith's side have found the back of the net themselves in all bar three of 20 league tussles.
Arsenal come into this contest with selection concerns in key defensive positions, putting the club's recent resurgence under threat. Nevertheless, the Gunners have scored in all bar two of their past 10 Premier League games, with four of their most recent five fixtures on the road paying out for Over 2.5 Goals supporters.
I'm anticipating a watchable affair at Villa Park and am therefore happy to combine Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score via the Same Game Multi for a 1.824/5 shot on Saturday.
Mark's 2020/21 Profit/Loss
Staked: 92.00 pts
Returned: 94.36 pts