Match Preview: Arsenal vs. Aston Villa

Aston Villa have the opportunity to put a miserable 3-2 loss to Wolves behind them when they travel to London to face Arsenal in Premier League action on Friday evening.

Villa conceded three times in 15 minutes at home to Wolves on Saturday in a shocking defeat. They’ve won the last three matches against Arsenal, who drew at home to Crystal Palace on Monday.

The big story heading into this match is Leon Bailey’s supposed inclusion in Dean Smith’s team. The winger has not featured since a 3-0 win over Everton on September 18, in which he introduced himself to the Villa Park faithful with a cracking goal.

Emi Buendia famously snubbed Arsenal to sign for Villa in the summer, but it’s the Gunners currently above Villa in the Premier League standings. Both sides are on three wins, but Arsenal are 12th with 11 points, and Villa are 13th with 10 points.

The Emirates has been a happy hunting ground for the Villans, though, having had won four of their last 10 top-flight matches in North London. Only Chelsea (6) and Manchester City (5) have won more Premier League matches vs. Arsenal at the Emirates.

The sides last met on February 6, 2021, at Villa Park. Ollie Watkin’s second-minute goal was the difference in a 1-0 victory for the home side.

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa team news

Smith said on Thursday that Matty Cash, Bertrand Traore, and Bailey were all available for selection on Friday. Cash came off early against Wolves and, Traore picked up a knock on international duty with Burkina Faso.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 18: Leon Bailey of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Everton at Villa Park on September 18, 2021 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

Bailey’s been in and out of the squad since arriving in August but is primed to make his first start on Friday. Smith said of Bailey and Traore that “we’ll have to assess where they are,” but recent posts on Bailey’s social media suggest the Jamaican could start.

Bukayo Saka was injured in Arsenal’s draw with Palace on Monday and will not feature. The England international joins Granit Xhaka on the sideline. Alexandre Lacazette could make his first start this season after missing time due to injury earlier in the campaign.

Aston Villa formation: The end of the 3-5-2?

We could see Smith move back to a 4-3-3 formation on Friday if Bailey and or Traore are fit to start. Both have made substitute appearances this season as wing backs. but to get the best out of both Smith will have to switch to a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.

The striker partnership of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings has yet to yield the kind of successes Villa supporters have hoped for, and it may be time to shake things up. With Watkins struggling, Ings could play as the lone central forward with Bailey on the left and Buendia on the right.

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 22: Emiliano Buendia of Aston Villa during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 22, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

If Smith is adamant about playing both Watkins and Ings as central forwards, Bailey could miss out or start at left wing back. Doing so could be seen as a missed opportunity, though, against an Arsenal team that has looked shaky in central defense. A three-man attack force would likely cause headaches for Ben White and Gabriel.

No matter how Villa line up, pressure is the key. Palace found success high up the field, forcing the Arsenal defense into mistakes on Monday. Smith has to decide which of the 4-3-3 or 5-3-2 is the better formation to deploy a high press.

Aston Villa projected Starting XI: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings Targett; Luiz; McGinn, J. Ramsey; Buendia, Ings, Bailey

Arsenal projected Starting XI: Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney; Odegaard, Partey, Smith Rowe; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang

Date/time: Friday, October 22 at 8:00 PM BST/3:00 PM EST

Ground: Emirates Stadium

TV/Streaming UK: Sky Sports

TV/Streaming US: NBCSN