Welcome back. Signed on the same day as Patrick Vieira back in 1996, Remi Garde is famously one of Arsene Wenger’s first two signings for the club, but tomorrow at Villa Park, old allegiances will be forgotten as he faces us as a manager for the first time.
Garde enjoyed a fairly unremarkable three-year stay with the Gunners after signing from Strasbourg, but did win the Double with us in 1998, though as a bit-part player. He made 31 appearances in the red and white of Arsenal before injury forced him to retire in 1999. Anyway, tomorrow he’s no different to any other opposition manager, in the sense that I want us to give his team a good spanking.
In terms of how we’ll line-up, we should have the same squad that traveled to Greece for Wednesday night’s win over Olympiacos and as such, I’m expecting an unchanged starting line-up. If, for instance, Olivier Giroud’s ankle isn’t feeling 100 percent after he seemed to strain it early in the second half in Athens, we do of course have the option of bringing in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, moving Theo Walcott up front and giving the Frenchman a breather.
As for the importance of the game, with Leicester City not playing until they host relegation-haunted Chelsea on Monday night, we can go top with a win, displacing Manchester City, who climbed above the Foxes thanks to a jammy last-minute winner against Swansea this afternoon. Seeing as Manchester United lost today, we can also open up a four-point gap to fourth-place.
But the boss thinks only after the festive period will the table start to indicate which teams are likeliest to last the pace in the title race. He said:
I think you always see the real trend after Christmas. Of course every year you have a surprising team who is in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester. The question is always can they maintain their run. It looks like Leicester are producing the consistency and quality. The number of goals they score indicates to you, yes, they will remain up there and you have to consider them now as fighting for the Premier League.
And on tomorrow’s opponents Aston Villa, as well as the need for ‘focus’ from his own side, Arsene told Arsenal Player:
They have Sinclair, they have Jordan Ayew, who can score goals like Gestede. They are a complete team. Vertout plays quite well, Gueye plays. They have young prospects like Grealish. I think there is a good basis for Remi Garde to work on and to stabilise the team. For us, after Wednesday night, it’s important that we straight away have a focus. I’m highly focused on the Premier League and I want us to manage to go from one competition to the other. That’s a sign of maturity as well.
Last season we beat Villa 3-0 away, then 5-0 at home before our 4-0 win in May’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, but this is a much-changed side we’ll face. They have a horde of new players, a new manager and despite being bottom of the league following a disastrous first few months of the season, they did manage a 1-1 draw at Southampton last time out, with many observers reporting they looked much improved. So tomorrow may not be as straightforward for us as it would appear looking at the standings.
That said, I’m expecting nothing less than three points, Arsenal topping the table for at least 24 hours and then a full week to rest and recuperate before we welcome City to Emirates Stadium a week on Monday. Make it happen lads …