Unai Emery’s Aston Villa are set to host the league leaders at Villa Park on the back of their impressive, dominant display that blew away the defending Premier League and European Champions. The Villians are in great form with 14 straight home wins, although their last defeat at Villa Park was at the hands of Mikel Arteta, who is set to miss the touchline but will pose a threat to Emery’s side with his men.
As mentioned, Villa is ripe for a big win against Manchester City, and with the form they are in, it would be a massive test for Arsenal to return with 3 points. Let’s discuss the playing style of Aston Villa directed by Unai Emery this season, which has proven to be a success recipe.
Unai Emery sets up Aston Villa in a typical 4-3-3 setup off the ball, although their leading superpower is their incredible high line. Props to Unai Emery and the coaching staff; the highline has caught the opposition off-side 71 times (the most) amongst all Premier League clubs. Although in the game against Spurs, they seemed to have been vulnerable and let opposition runners through to goal, their off-the-ball positioning has been phenomenal in most of the season.
Arsenal, on the other hand, defend in a 4-2-3-1 structure, with duel monsters like Declan Rice and Kai Havertz in the midfield sitting in front of the back four. Arteta’s team asks the opposition to break them down in settled play and have sight of the Arsenal goal guarded. Aston Villa would look to present ball possession to Arsenal, exploit the Gunners on transitions, and play where the structure is unsettled.
Aston Villa Build-Up Play
Diego Carlos and the left-footed Pau Torres form a solid center-back pairing for the Villians, complemented by a goalkeeper comfortable on the ball, which allows Aston Villa to start their play from deep within their half. This strategy proved effective against City, enabling them to take shots at Ederson. The deep build-up lures the opposition press into their box, creating space across the pitch for their midfielders and strikers once they bypass the initial pressure.
With Douglas Luiz anchoring as the number 6, Villa benefits from his exceptional passing range and intelligent movement. His abilities make it easier for the team to play over the press to the impressive Watkins, who adeptly holds and handles difficult balls. Additionally, Luiz offers intricate play to navigate through high-pressure situations when required.
Lucas Digne, seemingly directed to push wide and advance into advanced positions, provides crosses for Watkins, who boasts excellent aerial prowess. Moreover, the dynamic movements and flair of Bailey and Diaby pose significant challenges for opposing fullbacks and defences.
Arteta’s recent signings have given Arsenal the flexibility to approach their play in various ways, aligning with his desired strategy. The team now boasts versatility in their gameplay thanks to the squad’s capabilities. Among Arsenal’s effective build-up styles, the 3-2-5 formation stands out. This setup involves Zinchenko transitioning into midfield alongside Rice, creating a double pivot. Meanwhile, the wingers maintain width, and Jesus drops deeper to facilitate play. And as seen in the picture, Raya’s calmness and ability with the ball allow Arteta to use him as an extra man, more like a 6 with the 2 CB’s either side of him. Not only that, he also has a good passing range on him to play over the press.
Lately, Ødegaard has been dropping deeper into a more central role, sometimes resembling a false 6. This shift has boosted his passing output, addressing some of Arsenal’s creativity issues. Additionally, Kai Havertz’s astute instincts and aerial prowess present a unique challenge for opposing defences. His ability to act as a physical target in the box is valuable for playmakers like Zinchenko, Saka, and Ødegaard to exploit when aiming for the opposition’s penalty area.
Overall, Arsenal’s tactical flexibility, demonstrated by formations like the 3-2-5, along with Odegaard’s positional variety and Havertz’s aerial threat, adds depth and diversity to their attacking strategy and makes it difficult for defenses to counter.
Let’s explore how both teams might exploit each other’s weaknesses. I anticipate Arsenal controlling possession and dictating play, which might not concern Emery’s Villa. They could utilize their quality midfield to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm and release potent runners like Watkins, Bailey, and Diaby, exploiting open spaces created by Zinchenko’s midfield shifts. Douglas Luiz’s deliveries could be pivotal for Villa’s attacks, mainly using Raya’s recent struggles with set pieces. However, Raya’s strength in commanding his box hasn’t yet been fully showcased in an Arsenal shirt.
Conversely, Arsenal might use Martinelli’s pace and Havertz’s instincts to trouble Emery’s high defensive line. With Ødegaard, Zinchenko, and Jorginho capable of delivering piercing passes, Arsenal could exploit gaps in Villa’s defence. Additionally, Jesus’s skill in tight spaces might allow Arsenal to test Emi Martinez, the Yashin Trophy winner and former Arsenal goalkeeper.
In conclusion, we’re poised for a thrilling match today, especially considering its significance in the Premier League title race and the race for UEFA Champions League qualification.