Villa improved but inconsistent
Aston Villa were 16th and just two points above the relegation places when Steven Gerrard was brought in following the dismissal of Dean Smith.
They head into this one in ninth place and 14 points clear of the drop zone. It all suggests the former Liverpool man has done an excellent job.
Another look at the table makes less convincing viewing given that ninth is the absolute best Villa could be as eighth-placed Wolves are a full 10 points clear of their midlands neighbours.
There’s been a rather good day/bad day feel to Villa’s results under Gerrard. They’ve played 18 times in all competitions, winning eight, losing eight and drawing two.
Perhaps that’s just fine. Such results are those of an inconsistent mid-table side rather than one concerned about relegation so Gerrard has certainly moved them up a notch even though it’s been a bit snakes and ladders.
One extra detail is that only three of Villa’s eight wins with Gerrard at the helm have come at Villa Park so the main improvements appear to have come on the road.
Gunners given reality check by Liverpool
It’s been going pretty swimmingly for Arsenal over the last month or so. After a sticky run, they’d reeled off five straight Premier League wins and taken a strong grip on fourth place.
And then on Wednesday night they ran into Liverpool. To be fair, Arsenal acquitted themselves well against Jurgen Klopp’s men in the 2-0 reverse but the ultimate takeaway was that they still have a way to go before competing with the very elite.
Having said that, the picture still looked good at full-time despite the loss. Arsenal were fourth and had two games in hand over nearest rivals Manchester United.
Since their terrible start to the season, Arsenal have been beating sides like Villa. And in their first head-to-head back in October, the Gunners ran out convincing 3-1 winners, goals from Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe putting them 3-0 up after 56 minutes before Jacob Ramsey grabbed a late consolation.
Mikel Arteta isn’t happy that Arsenal must contest the early Saturday game having played on Wednesday evening but given their lack of European football, they’ve had a lighter schedule than plenty of teams this season.
Gunners clear favourites but doubts persist
As you’d expect given their points tallies – Villa (36), Arsenal (51) – it’s the away side who are fancied to bag three more points.
Arsenal are 2.486/4 for the win, with Aston Villa 3.052/1 and The Draw 3.613/5.
As noted, Villa haven’t been great at home under Gerrard and overall this season their Villa Park form shows five wins, three draws and five defeats. However, Arsenal are equally inconsisent away: six wins, one draw and five defeats.
Perhaps the bigger concern is how the Gunners reacted the last time they lost at home to one of the Premier League’s star clubs.
Arsenal played extremely well when Manchester City visited on New Year’s Day but ended up losing the game 2-1.
Rather than be boosted by the performance, they seemed affected by the result and it proved the start of a five-match winless run. They were dreadful in the first game after the City loss, being dumped out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest, had a draw and a win against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup semis and were then held 0-0 by Burnley at the Emirates.
In other words, it could be dangerous to think they’ll shake off the understandable loss to Liverpool and immediately get back to beating teams beneath them.
Does that mean we shove our chips onto Villa? Hmmm. It’s difficult to trust them too. Philippe Coutinho could have a stormer but, then again, sometimes he just doesn’t get going.
Unders may be best way in
One thing Arsenal did prove against Liverpool is that Arteta has them very well organised.
And with Gerrard running a tight ship too, this could be a case of caution and structure on both sides leading to a lack of goals.
The market doesn’t think that: it has Overs as the favourite. But given that the two managers aren’t exactly of the gung-ho variety, I’m more than happy to take the odds-against price of Under 2.5 Goals at 2.0621/20.
Looking at Arsenal’s recent games, Unders has landed in seven of the last 10. For Villa the evidence is more mixed (four of the last eight) but they have kept clean sheets in three of their last four outings. The last three matches between this pair at Villa Park have featured goal counts of 1, 1 and 2, so the numbers are in our favour overall.
Gerrard and Arteta won’t want to give anything away cheaply given that they’re both coming into the game on the back of a defeat and I think this could be a tighter game than many expect.
With that in mind another possible option is Both teams to Score ‘No’ at 2.35/4.
Attacking midfielders offer Bet Builder options
I’m not a fan of goals here which limits interest in the goalscorer markets.
If I did play, and this is team news permitting, the two I’d look at would be Smith Rowe and Coutinho.
Despite his lack of starts, Smith Rowe is Arsenal’s top Premier League scorer this term with nine while Coutinho has scored in three of Villa’s four home games since his January move.
Both to get on the scoresheet pays just under 14.013/1 on the Bet Builder.
Smith Rowe to score in a Draw is around 16.015/1.
Philippe Coutinho has been involved in six goals in his first four home Premier League appearances for Aston Villa (3 goals, 3 assists), at least two more than any other Villa player since his debut in January. In Premier League history, the only Villa player to be involved in 6+ goals in their first five home appearances is Dion Dublin (6 goals, 1 assist).