Sunday brings together a pair who were often – for the better part of last term – mentioned in the same sentence.
So far this season though, Arsenal and Aston Villa have been minding their own business. Both sides have chased their Premier league aspirations without a tight, direct contest between each other.
Liverpool’s demise means Martin Oneill’s men have a spot to pounce on in the top four while Chelsea and United’s mild title assault has helped Arsenal right in the thick of the title race for once.
Only until Sunday are Arsenal and Aston Villa to meet again since 2008/09’s frenzy battle for a top-four finish which, in truth, failed to go down to the wire as billed.
Thus, atoning for past errors will be more of Villa’s mission than Arsenal’s. Martin Oneill’s crew have to show up the ‘real deal’ this time after squandering what was almost an unassailable eight point gap to finish 6th instead of 4th.
The Birmingham outfit do have an answer should their quality and strength in depth be questioned again. Oneill has been able to name unchanged line ups for consecutive weeks now while his side grinds out victories with clean sheets.
In this same fixture last season, a bizarre 2-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium signaled Villa’s big intent to breathe right on Arsenal’s neck for fourth spot. This season though, Villa are indeed neck-and-neck with the Gunners. Level on 35 points at third, having lost fewer games and boast a clean sweep of victories over all of Arsenal’s peers from the ‘big four’.
Clear note is that Oneill’s men are revitalized and doing better this season, but so are Wenger’s boys.
Six points behind the stuttering league leaders with a game in hand, is the closest Arsenal have come in the title race by Christmas over the past five years – apart from actually leading the chart in 2007.
That feat is even more promising considering the fact that upon all their football’s rampancy, which sees them as the top flight’s current top scorers with 44 goals, Arsenal have had their fair share of adversity.
While the look of Martin Oneill’s team selections remain as consistent as Wenger’s injury-forced line up changes, Arsenal have also seen defeats here and there. And when they come in the league season, they are back-to-back. Man. City then Man. United and Sunderland then Chelsea show the trend.
But the Gunners have been hanging in there till 2010, and should they see out the final two fixtures of 2009, the reward will be plenty.
An advantageous game in hand at home to Bolton, a month to boost the squad with transfer recruits and perhaps a chance to turn the title race on its head by May are all on the way.
Again, Arsenal will have to continue hanging in there on Sunday, till 2010 comes.
May you all have a Merry Christmas!