High fliers: Villa face Arsenal test as Swans host Saints
Premier League pretenders Aston Villa face a litmus test in their encounter with Arsenal, whilst fellow current top four sides Swansea City and Southampton look to carry on their fine form at each other’s expense.
Heading in to the weekend, only juggernauts Chelsea have collected more points than the surprise packages of Villa, the Swans and Saints.
Aston Villa v Arsenal
Villa remain unbeaten in the Premier League this term, shocking both themselves and fans, and will surely pose a tough test for the visiting Gunners, who they are available at 4/1 to beat with Coral.
Following Paul Lambert’s new contract and his Birmingham-based boys’ 1-0 triumph over Liverpool last time out, a visit from Arsenal can hold little fear for a side who seem to have the rub of the green at the moment.
Of course every team needs a little luck, but Lambert’s men are also impressively organised. Villa limited Brendan Rodgers’ usually rampant Reds to just one shot on target, and are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet again, or 15/2 to win to nil.
Lambert is expected to name are largely unchanged side from the Villans’ Anfield victory. Skipper Ron Vlaar may stay sidelined with a calf injury, but Nathan Baker has proven himself a more than able replacement in Villa’s system. In a boost to the Birmingham-based club’s attack, which despite their impressive points tally remains a concern, midfield maestro Joe Cole could be set to return.
Arsenal, meanwhile, find themselves visiting Villa Park on the back of a disappointing 2-0 drubbing by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. The Gunners, who are odds-on favourites at 8/11 to beat the home side, desperately need to secure victory after winning just one league game so far.
Returning to north London with the spoils from this encounter would be a much-needed boost, and Arsene Wenger can feel confident that normal service will be resumed, as he prepares to welcome back Calum Chambers and Mathieu Flamini.
New boy Danny Welbeck netted twice at Villa Park for former club Manchester United last season, and is 7/1 to open his Arsenal account and bag a brace or better again. Clubmate Alexis Sanchez scored the Gunners’ equaliser against Manchester City last time out, and is also available at 5/1 to hit home last once more.
Swansea v Southampton
Third-placed Premier League side Swans have not yet tasted defeat at the Liberty Stadium this season, and head into this weekend’s clash with fourth spot Southampton snapping at their heels.
After being largely dismissed as relegation candidates, following their summer window fire-sale of top talents such as Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Luke Shaw, Ronald Koeman’s side have shown plenty of fighting spirit.
The Saints did the Premier League double over Swansea last term, and are 9/5 to defeat the Welsh club again, despite the turnover in personnel. Whilst striker Shane Long is expected to be fit, it is Italian attacker Graziano Pelle who has made Saints supporters forget the absence of Lambert.
Poacher Pelle has netted four times in six appearances for the south coast club and, after bagging a brace against Newcastle United last time out, is 9/1 to score two or more again.
Swansea, meanwhile, will be hoping for a home win to recover from their first loss of the season, an exciting 4-2 encounter with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last time out.
Manager of the Month Garry Monk’s men could see Ivory Coast forward Wilfried Bony (6/4 to net anytime), who was rested against the Blues, return to claim his starting spot from Bafetimbi Gomes. Meanwhile, top scorer Nathan Dyer and star signing Gylfi Sigurdsson are 11/4 and 10/3 to be on target anytime respectively.
Argentine defender Federico Fernandez, who was signed from Napoli this summer, may also finally make his first Premier League start, with Jordi Amat still on the sidelines.
The Swans are 6/4 to secure the win in front of their home fans, having already claimed the scalps of Burnley, Manchester United and West Bromich Albion this term.