Having both fallen to 3-1 defeats to Manchester City in their most recent Premier League encounters, Aston Villa and Arsenal kick off this weekend’s action at Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime.
Unai Emery reunites with his former club as his current side sit 11th in the top-flight rankings, while the Gunners have been bumped down to second but could quickly regain top spot here.
Many wondered how Man City would immediately react to the plethora of charges that have been levied on them for alleged financial breaches, but Aston Villa ended up becoming the latest victims of an Etihad onslaught, as the champions responded how champions should.
Rodri’s header, Ilkay Gundogan’s tap-in and Riyad Mahrez’s penalty put the game to bed before the half-time whistle blew, but Ollie Watkins did manage to bag a consolation for the visitors before Jhon Duran rattled the woodwork with a thunderous volley in the dying embers.
The scoreline could have been more humiliating for Villa had Mahrez not ballooned another gilt-edged chance over the bar, and a second successive loss has further harmed the Lions’ top-half aspirations, as they enter the weekend three points adrift of Chelsea and four behind Liverpool, who have a game in hand.
The positives have outweighed the negatives for Villa since Emery took charge, as they have scored in all 11 of their competitive fixtures under the ex-Arsenal and Villarreal boss, but conceding seven goals in their last two games does not bode well before a meeting with the title contenders.
Each of the hosts’ last five home matches in the Premier League has seen both teams find the back of the net, but only one of those contests has ended in victory for Emery, who needs no briefing on the dangers that his former employers will pose in the West Midlands.
It was Villa’s turn to lose 3-1 to Man City at the weekend, and it was Arsenal’s turn to suffer an identical beating at the hands of the champions on Wednesday night – one which knocked the Gunners off their perch at the top of the table as defensive mistakes bedevilled them.
Kevin De Bruyne and Bukayo Saka both made the net ripple in the first half, but the City juggernaut came out all guns blazing in the second as Jack Grealish and Erling Braut Haaland made the error-strewn North Londoners pay, extending their winning streak over Arsenal to 11 games in the top flight.
What may have started out as a minor blip against Everton is now becoming a slippery slope for the Gunners, who have now failed to win any of their last three Premier League games and are in second place on goal difference as a result, albeit while holding a game in hand on Man City.
The destiny of the title is therefore still in their own hands, and a point would send them back to the summit on Saturday before Man City tackle Nottingham Forest in the afternoon, but more and more questions are now being asked about the credentials of this young team.
Nevertheless, Arsenal still travel to Villa Park as the Premier League’s best-performing away team this term – conceding a joint-low seven goals in the process – and they posted a 1-0 win in this fixture last term before edging a close contest 2-1 at the end of August.
Villa may soon be blessed with a full complement of players as Diego Carlos steps up his recovery from Achilles surgery, but he will not be ready for this game, while Jed Steer is also working his way back from a calf concern.
The recently-returned Bertrand Traore could potentially play his way into contention as he shakes off a knee injury, though, while Emery should also be able to call upon Tyrone Mings, who missed the defeat to City with an unspecified problem.
Mings’s likely return would see ex-Arsenal man Calum Chambers drop to the bench after an underwhelming showing at the Etihad, while Lucas Digne did not cover himself in glory either and could drop out for Alex Moreno.
As for Arsenal, groans were heard across North London when it emerged that Thomas Partey would miss the clash with Man City due to a muscle injury, although his absence was described as precautionary, and there is still a chance that he could recover for Saturday’s game.
Nevertheless, Jorginho was one of the Gunners’ standout performers on Wednesday night and will start again if need be, while Mohamed Elneny and Gabriel Jesus are definitely out as they recover from knee surgeries, and Emile Smith Rowe is still a doubt with his latest thigh concern.
Arteta’s decision to start Takehiro Tomiyasu against Man City was not vindicated, so Ben White ought to return here, while the quick turnaround will also benefit Leandro Trossard’s chances of earning a start over Gabriel Martinelli.
Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Martinez; Young, Konsa, Mings, Moreno; Kamara, Luiz, Ramsey; Buendia, Watkins, Bailey
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Xhaka, Jorginho; Saka, Odegaard, Trossard; Nketiah