Despite Wednesday night’s defeat to Liverpool, Arsenal can safely say the block of fixtures since the warm weather training camp in Dubai has gone very well.
Five wins have seen the Gunners climb up to fourth in the Premier League table and another against Villa would see us close the gap on third-place Chelsea (in FA Cup action this weekend against Middlesbrough) and give us breathing room on Manchester United (who aren’t in action) and at least one of West Ham and Sp*rs who play each other on Sunday.
It’s an enticing carrot ahead of the Interlull but not a fixture that Mikel Arteta’s squad can afford to take lightly.
The Villans have beaten us on our last two trips to Birmingham and look a much more dangerous outfit under Steven Gerrard compared to the side that laboured to defeat at Emirates Stadium in October in the closing stages of Dean Smith’s reign.
“Very good,” was Arteta’s assessment of Steven Gerrard’s work so far at Villa Park.
“They have had some positive results in the last few games. He’s changed the shape, he’s changed a few things that the team is doing. He’s brought a different energy again to that stadium I think. I’m impressed with what he’s doing.”
He added: “I think he’s got on very, very well so far and what he did at Rangers I think it’s remarkable and I don’t know if he gets the credit that he should do because I’ve played there, I know how that club goes and how he turned it around and what he’s done at Villa, so I think so far he’s done really well.”
One of Gerrard’s first decisions as manager was to sign-off on the recruitment of Philippe Coutinho with whom he had played at Liverpool.
The Brazil international – heavily linked with Arsenal during his ill-fated spell at Barcelona – has impressed on his return to the Premier League getting himself on the scoresheet three times and making three assists.
Arteta is acutely aware of the need to keep the creative midfielder quiet.
“He’s one of them,” said the boss. “Obviously the team activates a lot of things when he’s on the ball and he’s in dangerous areas. He’s contributed a lot when he’s in their attacking phase, so obviously it’s something that we need to bear in mind.
“His ability to create goals, and to create chances, and to unlock spaces when they don’t exist – that’s a quality that he had (and continues to have), when he was at Liverpool.”
Including tomorrow’s trip down the M4, four of Arsenal’s next five games are away from home.
On how tough that run is going to be, Arteta said: “Very, because every game in the Premier League is extremely difficult to win. We are going to be playing very difficult matches, like the rest of the teams.
“The thing is that we have some games in hand still. It’s not (simple) again, but performing like we did against Liverpool for the majority of the game. If we do that we will be close to winning (those) four matches.”
For the time being, Arteta won’t get sucked into all the chat about Arsenal ending their Champions League exodus.
“When we do it I will tell you,” he replied when asked what it would mean to him to lead the Gunners back to Europe’s top table.
“It still hasn’t happened. There are still 11 games left for us to play and a lot of things could happen, and that’s what we are playing for.”