Gunners lie in wait for Aston Villa


Arsenal’s Leandro Trossard (left) and Kai Havertz will be keen on a win when Villa visit the Emirates tomorrow. — Reuters

ARSENAL are on the verge of reaching the Uefa Champions League semifinals.

All they need to do to get there is sweep past Bayern Munich next week.

They will travel to Bavaria after holding the German giants to a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the quarterfinal at the Emirates Stadium in midweek.

Tomorrow, they will endeavour to thwart Aston Villa’s bid for a place in Europe’s elite club competition when they clash in the Premier League.

The Gunners will be bent on strengthening their own case in the league race, which they lead on goal difference from Liverpool and are a point ahead of champions Manchester City.

The clash with Unai Emery’s Villans, given what it could mean to where the league crown might finish this season or how far Villa could go to breaking into the top four, has the potential to be a real thriller.

The intensity with which these rivals do battle against each other is never short of full throttle, and tomorrow is unlikely to be any different.

They will be driven by incentives of equal magnitude: the Gunners are within touching distance of the title, and fifth-placed Villa are on the brink of qualifying for the Champions League, they are on the same number of points (60) as Tottenham Hotspur in fourth.

Arsenal are unbeaten in the Premiership this year and look like a formidable unit across the squad, but it is their defence that’s really raised the hopes of a first league crown in two decades.

Bruno Guimaraes will be expected to weigh in with another good showing for Newcastle. - ReutersBruno Guimaraes will be expected to weigh in with another good showing for Newcastle. - ReutersThe two goals they conceded to Harry Kane’s Bayern Munich were the first time they let in two or more since the first week of December.

Against Spurs, they will have regrouped and spoken about ironing out the couple of lapses that let the German team in – one a Kane penalty.

Ben White did a sterling job leading the defence, while skipper Martin Odegaard similarly chipped in with a telling performance in midfield, as did forwards Bukayo Saka and Kai Havertz, who came on in the second half.

One suspects that Declan Rice will raise his game a notch or two. He wasn’t at the top of his game against Bayern Munich, and if he’s not carrying an injury, the former West Ham star will be expected to be a lot more influential against Villa.

Emery’s Villa side will have had a day less to prepare for the Gunners. They were down to play French club Lille in the Europa Conference League quarterfinal at Villa Park in midweek.

The Spaniard will also know that his team needs to be a bit more consistent in the closing stages of the season if they are indeed to push for a top-four finish and earn automatic qualification into the Champions League next season.

They went on a good run of form from the end of September through Christmas, during which they only lost one of 17 matches across all competitions.

And to underscore that confidence, it included back-to-back league wins over Arsenal and Manchester City and victories over both Chelsea and Tottenham in London.

Villa are not a star-studded side and rely much on their cohesion and working as a solid, single unit.

But they are likely to be without injured midfielder Matty Cash and defender Clement Lenglet for the visit to Arsenal.

The duo were expected to miss the Lille game.

Still, Pau Torres said in midweek that their chances of both a top-four finish in the Premier League and a triumph in the Conference League were still there and good.

He said they have “a really good squad and a really good team”, with enough players to give 100% in each game in both competitions.

“We are working on it,” skysports.com quoted him as saying. “I think this week is a hard week, a tough week, and we need to go game-to-game and keep fighting.

“Both competitions are so, so important. We want to leave with our supporters after 26 years in a quarterfinal at home, and we want to play another game in front of them, so it means we will be in a semi-final.

“We are working on it. This next month and a half is the most important, and we need every player focused on it.”

Arsenal too will be looking to this clash as “important,” and perhaps one that they cannot afford to lose if they still want to be champions.

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