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  • 27 November 2010
  • • 12:45
  • • Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Referee: M. Clattenburg
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Aston Villa - Arsenal Preview: Pires set to feature against former club as old friends Houllier and Wenger meet

Aston Villa - Arsenal Preview: Pires set to feature against former club as old friends Houllier and Wenger meet

TEAM NEWS

Aston Villa


Gerard Houllier is in the midst of an injury crisis with no less than 10 players either out long-term or serious doubts ahead of the game, including young winger Marc Albrighton, who will not be back until mid-December after suffering from appendicitis.

37-year-old Robert Pires may feature against his former club after coming off the bench in the defeat at Ewood Park last weekend.

Nigel Reo-Coker may return from his knee injury to ease a midfield crisis with Steve Sidwell, Stilian Petrov and Fabian Delph all long-term absentees, while Carlos Cuellar will face a fitness test to determine whether he is able to feature after straining a calf muscle.
 
Possible starting XI: Friedel; L Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Pires, Ireland, Bannan, Downing; A Young; Agbonlahor.
 
Arsenal

Cesc Fabregas’ injury in defeat to Braga could not have come at a worse time for Arsene Wenger as his side are desperate to bounce back from two successive defeats in a week if they are to keep the pressure on Chelsea and Manchester United.

Arsenal will also be without Emmanuel Eboue, who picked up a serious knee injury in Portugal on Tuesday and may not figure again this year.

Gael Clichy and Abou Diaby remain doubts with back and ankle injuries respectively, so Tomas Rosicky is likely to fill one of the midfield slots.
 
Possible starting XI: Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Gibbs; Wilshere, Denilson, Rosicky; Walcott, Chamakh, Nasri.

From top to bottom

A win for the away side would see them go top of the table, at least for a few hours, and could leave Villa in danger of dropping into the relegation zone.

Villa have won just two Premier League games, and a poor one in eight, since former Liverpool boss Houllier took over in October and were well beaten by Blackburn last weekend.

That wobbly run of form should give Arsenal even more confidence of picking up three points at a ground that they have been unbeaten at since 1998, while the Gunners also top the Premier League's away table this campaign with 14 points from seven trips on the road.

A very civil French war

Houllier faces his compatriot in the opposite dugout for the first time since 2004, when he was still in charge at Liverpool.

The long-serving Wenger marginally had the edge over the former manager of the French national side in their previous Premier League clashes, picking up four wins in comparison to his friend's three.

Houllier's Liverpool drew against Arsenal more times – five – than they beat their London rivals, and the two sides played out two scoreless draws in that time, while Wenger has not been beaten in the league by his compatriot in their last six meetings.

But the Reds of Merseyside pipped their more celebrated attacking opponents in goals scored from their league meetings, 15 to 14, giving Villa fans reason to be confident.

As will another historical moment: arguably Houllier's finest hour in English football came as his Liverpool side added their second trophy of a treble-winning 2001 season by defeating Wenger in a controversial FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in which Stephane Henchoz at least twice handled in the box before Michael Owen – a reported January target for the Midlands side – popped up with two late goals as Arsenal looked set to cruise to victory.

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Last Five Matches
Odds
Team News
Available Squads
24Brad FriedelGoalkeeper
18Luke YoungDefender
5Richard DunneDefender
19James CollinsDefender
13Stephen WarnockDefender
8Robert PiresMidfielder
46Barry BannanMidfielder
6Ciaran ClarkDefender
19Stewart DowningMidfielder
18Ashley YoungMidfielder
10John Alieu CarewStriker
1Bradley GuzanGoalkeeper
43Eric LichajDefender
23Habib BeyeDefender
50Jonathan HoggMidfielder
14Nathan DelfounesoStriker
32Stephen IrelandMidfielder
17Chris HerdMidfielder
21Lukasz FabianskiGoalkeeper
3Bacary SagnaDefender
6Laurent KoscielnyDefender
18Sébastien SquillaciDefender
22Gael ClichyDefender
17Alexandre SongMidfielder
10Jack WilshereMidfielder
8Samir NasriMidfielder
7Tomas RosickyMidfielder
10Andrey ArshavinMidfielder
29Marouane ChamakhStriker
1Wojciech SzczesnyGoalkeeper
14Theo WalcottStriker
17Nicklas BendtnerStriker
20Robin van PersieStriker
28Kieran GibbsDefender
15DenilsonMidfielder
5Johan DjourouDefender
Players to Watch
Ashley Young
Ashley Young
Position: Midfielder
Squad Number: 18
Games Goals YC RC
1 0 1 0

The lightning quick attacker has plenty of reasons to impress against the Gunners, not least to put himself in the shop window for a potential move to London in January with the rumour mill going into overdrive in recent weeks suggesting that Wenger is preparing to make a bid for the former Watford man.

The 25-year-old has played in a variety of roles under Houllier - as second striker, solo front man and down either flank - and his versatility and quick feet make him a difficult player for any team to mark.

With wing partner Albrighton out, the onus will be on the England international to both create and finish what have become Villa's customary counter-attacking moves.

Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott
Position: Striker
Squad Number: 14
Games Goals YC RC
0 0 0 0

Similar to the opposition's man to watch, Arsenal's jet-heeled England international could play a critical role in deciding the outcome of this one.

The 21-year-old has four goals from five Premier League appearances this term, but has yet to fully convince of his full footballing ability.

Up against the counter-attacking Villa, who like to play with a deep defensive line, the former Southampton man's brain will have to be engaged before he uses his electrifying pace.

Prediction

Neither side go into this one on the best run of form, so perhaps history provides the best clue as to how Saturday's tie will pan out, and with Wenger having the upper hand and sensing that his side could go top with victory, expect the away side to come away with three points.

Editor's Prediction

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