Riveting clash ahead of two in-form teams

Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa could figure prominently in today’s late game. — Reuters

Third-placed Aston Villa face leaders Arsenal

ASTON Villa delivered a swashbuckling triumph over Manchester City in midweek which dashed the latter’s bid to end a run of three draws in the Premier League.

The 1-0 victory left the rest of English football in awe of Unai Emery’s squad and heightened the hype in the build-up to their clash with league leaders Arsenal in the late game today.

That win lifted the Villans to third in the Premiership standings and relegated City to fourth spot.

It also paved the way for an encounter that will present Aston Villa with the chance of eclipsing their record of 14 straight home league wins, matched when dispatching Pep Guardiola and his Citizens.

Further still, it should prove another acid test of the Gunners’ resolve as they attempt to consolidate their position at the top of the table, where they lead Liverpool by two points and Vila by four.

Indeed, Arsenal are the form-team in the league, having won their last four on the trot.

What is striking about the squad is that they are beginning to show a side of themselves that we didn’t see last season, when they made a run for the title, only to be leapfrogged by Man City towards the very end.

This talented Gunners outfit is playing with some great character, showing a never-say-die attitude matched with serious resilience.

There are no longer just a couple names that stand out in this Mikel Ateta’s team like last season when they fell to pieces coming down the home stretch.

Instead, they now have a team with decent depth and a handful of players who are always eager to stand up and lead by example.

Among this lot is young England winger Bukayo Saka, who, if he plays today, will make his 150th appearance for the club while still only 22 years old.

Saka is a real joy to watch when in full flight. He could prove to be the greatest threat to Villa’s rapidly growing stature.

And even if Saka was to be played out of the game, the likes of skipper Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli or Gabriel Jesus, or one of the others, like Declan Rice or Kai Havertz could step in to make a case for the London club.

Ezri Konsa will almost surely be one player Emery will call upon to take guard at the back.

The sturdy right-back has become a pillar of strength in Villa’s core and underscored that with an outstanding showing against Man City in midweek as he patrolled the flank.

But he is not alone in shining in this evolving squad though.

Central defender Pau Torres and midfielders John McGinn and Leon Bailey, who got the winner in midweek, have all weighed in with considerable contributions in their fantastic run of form at home.

It was interesting to note in midweek that Guardiola said Villa should now be spoken of as a team in the race for the title, while Emery quickly downplayed it by saying that he would rather do so until after 30 games as opposed to 15 (they’re halfway there then).

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp chipped in with his own take on things.

The Anfield boss said it would be the “biggest joke in football to write off City” for the title, despite the tough going for the Etihad side.

Arteta, for his part, won’t mind in the least what Villa did in midweek.

But he’ll also be wary of suffering the same fate as his former boss Guardiola, which leaves us with what should be a tantalising clash at Villa Park today.

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