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Arsenal’s season has lulled somewhat after the promise and hope of three successive victories a month ago. Mikel Arteta’s side had looked to put a shocking start behind them when they comprehensively beat Tottenham to make it three wins in their last three, but their momentum has since stalled with back-to-back draws against Brighton and Crystal Palace.
In truth, Arsenal were fortunate to only drop four points in their last two games, rescuing a point from the jaws of defeat against Palace on Monday night in a game that they deserved to lose. They face an Aston Villa side that thumped them 3-0 in this fixture last season on Friday night and it will be a tough challenge for them to return to winning ways.
Villa, on the other hand, are reeling from a late collapse against Wolves that saw a 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 defeat in just 15 minutes. That result made it back-to-back defeats for Villa, eroding much of the promise of their successive victories over Everton and Manchester United.
Both sides currently sit side by side in the Premier League table and a draw seems the most likely result at present due to their poor form in recent games.
Villa kept clean sheets in both wins over Everton and United, but that is about as good as it has been defensively for Dean Smith’s side. They have conceded five goals in their last two games against Tottenham and Wolves – who both struggle to score goals – and conceded three against a Watford side that has scored seven league goals all season.
Both Arsenal and Villa have conceded 12 league goals this season at a rate of 1.5 goals per game, but Arsenal have shown a bit more defensive stability recently, keeping three clean sheets in their last six games.
However, they were ripped apart by Crystal Palace at times on Monday night and have managed just one home clean sheet all season against a Norwich side that has only scored twice in eight games. Villa have scored 12 in eight games and create plenty of opportunities, so should fancy their chances of wreaking havoc in The Gunners defence on Friday night. They might just struggle to keep them out at the other end as well.
Ollie Watkins scored his only goal of the season so far in an away game at Tottenham earlier in October, but could flourish again in North London. Watkins was Villa’s top scorer last term, however, he now has to share the limelight with new arrival Danny Ings as Dean Smith builds a more robust attacking line-up.
However, he is a tempting bet to find the back of the net on Friday given his excellent record against Mikel Arteta’s men last season. Watkins netted three goals in two games against the Gunners as Villa did the double over Arsenal for the first time since 1993.
He is likely to start up front alongside Ings and will get plenty of chances against an Arsenal side that has faced 123 shots in eight games this season. Watkins also seems to save his best form for the traditional “Big Six”, scoring nine of his 15 Premier League goals to date against the clubs that tried to form the European Super League.
As vital as John McGinn is to the Villa midfield, he is something of a liability when it comes to picking up yellow cards. The Scottish midfielder was Villa’s most booked player last season, picking up 12 yellow cards in 37 appearances at a rate of effectively one card in every three games.
He has been booked twice in seven appearances so far this season, so the law of averages states that he is likely to pick up a card in this game or the next. McGinn has committed 13 fouls this season and will likely be forced to transgress on Friday night in what will be a difficult game for Villa. He is by far the most likely player from either side to enter into the referee’s notebook at the Emirates.
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