Arsenal host Aston Villa at the Emirates on Sunday with a chance to keep up with 4th placed Manchester United as the race for two of the four Champions League places looks like going down to wire with six times set to battle it out in the remaining games.
Aston Villa are 15th at the moment and will have to start scoring soon if they intend to pick up points and avoid getting embroiled in a relegation battle. Their goal difference is the joint third worst in the league and remarkably, they have scored just 11 goals so far, eight less than the next worst team, Sunderland.
Arsenal have won six games in a row at the Emirates while Villa have now gone seven games without a win in the Premier League.
Per Mertesacker vs Christian Benteke
The Belgium forward has scored 3 goals in 4 Premier League games against Arsenal and is their best hope to end their current drought of five league games without a goal. Such woeful has Villa’s cutting edge in front of goal that despite missed parts of the season due to injuries and suspension, he is their second highest goal scorer this season with two goals.
Benteke will be up against Per Mertesacker in what will be a classic physical duel. With Villa expected to be dominated for the majority of the game, they’ll have to convert any chances that fall their way, especially during set-pieces.
Mertesacker didn’t have the best start to the season, often criticised and asked to be benched. However, Arsenal have been plagued by injuries that has seen the big German make the most appearances for them. He form has improved in recent times though and he was solid in the wins against Stoke and Manchester City.
Arsenal have not kept many cleansheets at home in the league this season, and the battle between the two might be a deciding factor in that.
Olivier Giroud vs Brad Guzan
With Alexis Sanchez a major doubt for the game and Danny Welbeck out injured, Arsenal will be relying on the French striker to fire the goals against Villa. He is their second highest goalscorer behind Sanchez and will be looking to cement his place in the starting XI with the return of Theo Walcott.
One man whom Villa be depending on to stop Giroud will be their goalkeeper Brad Guzan. If they are to harbour any hopes of keeping a shutout or even preventing Arsenal from scoring a few, Guzan will have to be on the top his game.
Tomas Rosicky vs Carlos Sanchez
The 34-year-old Czech international has hit a purple patch of late. He put in a man of the match performance in their last game against Brighton, scoring a cracking volley following his no look pass. He was excellent in Arsenal’s last home game against Stoke City, and will look to continue his good form against Aston Villa.
Carlos Sanchez on the other hand has emerged as an important cog in Villa’s narrow defensive set-up which looks to frustrate opposition by denying them space in front of the defence. They have conceded just seven goals in their last 14 games, and only Southampton and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals away from home.
The Colombian will be given a tough task to stop the likes of Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and possibly Mesut Ozil from creating chances for the home team.