With their hopes of survival hanging by a thread, relegation-threatened Aston Villa will host FA Cup finalists Arsenal at Villa Park tonight, in what will be the penultimate game in the Premier League for both the teams this season.
While the Lions are desperate to stay afloat in the Premier League, the Gunners are brimming with confidence after beating Premier League champions Liverpool, and knocking out holders Manchester City from the FA Cup in back to back games.
Here are three key battles which could potentially decide which team wins the game:
Arsenal vs Aston Villa: 3 key battles that could decide the outcome
#1 Jack Grealish vs. Cedric Soares
Mikel Arteta has not been afraid to shuffle his team to ensure that performances don’t dip, and it has worked well. Hector Bellerin is expected to be given a breather, having started against Manchester City, and Cedric Soares could operate as the right wing-back.
Soares will be up against Jack Grealish, who has dazzled in the top-flight this season, having plundered 7 goals and 6 assists in 34 league games.
The 24-year-old has the potential to bamboozle defenders with his movement and passing, and has the flair to create something out of nothing.
He has the ability to draw defenders and still keep the ball, which could allow the full-back and forwards to find some space in the final third. It will be up to Soares to keep Grealish at bay.
Grealish has managed 2.6 key passes a game, and has been fouled quite a lot – 4.7 times a game – this season, so he is undoubtedly the Villa attacker to watch out for.
#2 Tyrone Mings vs. Eddie Nketiah
A strong and imposing figure at the back, Tyrone Mings is a no-nonsense central defender and has been a key cog in Aston Villa side this season. The Englishman had a decent outing against Everton as he won 4 aerial duels and showed resilience.
Considering that Alexandre Lacazette played a lot of minutes when Eddie Nketiah was serving his three-game suspension, the latter could spearhead his side in the midweek fixture.
The young forward has not scored a many as he would have wanted, but worked tenaciously before his suspension.
Arsenal are likely to see a lot of the ball against Villa, so Nketiah will have to combine well with the rest of the attackers. In Mings, he will face a formidable opponent tonight, and should he do well against the centre-back, Arsenal’s job could become easier.
#3 Trezeguet vs. Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka has established himself as one of the most important players under the tutelage of Arteta, and has even earned the boo-boys’ admiration.
The Swiss international was wrongly used by previous managers and has seen his number of defensive actions decrease since Arteta’s arrival but at the same time, he has become a lot more consistent and is a big part of Arsenal’s style of bringing the ball out from the back.
With Villa seemingly likely to go out with their guns blazing against the north London outfit, a lot might hinge on how Villa’s forwards press Xhaka.
Trezeguet could play a key role in that, as stopping Arsenal playing out from the back could help Villa trouble the Gunners. As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp once said, pressing is the best playmaker, and Villa will need their attackers to do what Manchester City’s could not in the FA Cup game.
Easier said than done, but if Villa want to survive, they will have to dig deep and do the near-impossible.
Statistics Credits: Whoscored