Aston Villa face Arsenal at Villa Park with the Villans already mired in a relegation dogfight after their poor start to the season. Paul Lambert's side have had a horribly difficult fortnight, with back-to-back games against Premier League giants Manchester United, Manchester City and now the Gunners. Predictably, they haven't done too well, losing 2-3 at home to United and 5-0 on the road to the Premier League champions.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are on a high. Arsene Wenger's team have won their last two games, and had the added satisfaction of hammering north London rivals Tottenham 5-2 at the Emirates before qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions League with a 2-0 home win over French champions Montpellier.
The hosts for this game will start 18th in the league, with only nine points from 12 games; Arsenal have 19 from their 12. The same fixture last season ended in a 2-1 win for Wenger's men, with goals from Robin van Persie and Yossi Benayoun.
Where to Watch Live
Kick-off is set for 5.30pm GMT and live coverage starts an hour earlier, on ESPN and ESPN HD.
Lambert will watch this game from the stands, following a ban for improper conduct in last week's 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium. Also, while defeats to the likes of United, City and Arsenal are not entirely unexpected, the pressure of losing three games on the trot so early in the season, and conceding the advantage to relegation rivals Reading, QPR and Southampton, could prove problematic.
Villa need a strong response from their squad for this game. Unfortunately, their record against Arsenal is dismal. The Midlands club has lost seven of the last 14 fixtures between the sides and the last time they beat Arsenal at Villa Park was in 1998.
The defeats against United and City are at the tail end of a run of only two wins in eight games; one of those was a 2-3 away win at Swindon Town in the Capital Cup. The good news, though, is losses have been as scarce as wins, at least in recent games. Villa's record in the last five games, across all competitions, is actually good, with two wins and a draw.
Meanwhile, Wenger has had an excellent few weeks. The 63-year-old manager has welcomed England midfielder Jack Wilshire back into the first team after a 15-month injury layoff, and the youngster has hit the ground running, with a goal in the midweek defeat of Montpellier. Also, the club have announced a new five-year sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines, worth £150m.
And finally, Wenger claimed vindication over his transfer and financial policies after watching big-spending Manchester City crash out of the Champions League group stages for the second season in a row, while he led the Gunners to a 13th straight appearance in the knock-out stages.
The wins over Spurs and Montpellier followed a three-match winless streak for the club but all the goodwill aside, Wenger will know it could all go bad just as quickly. The club has a difficult schedule at the end of 2012, with games at Everton and against Swansea City, West Brom and Newcastle United all potentially tricky ties. Three points at Villa Park will go a long way towards re-establishing the Gunners' right to be considered a top team in the Premier League.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): L L W W D
- Last Match: Manchester City 5 - 0 Aston Villa
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): W W D D L
- Last Match: Arsenal 2 - 0 Montpellier
Villa will have lead striker Darren Bent available after his ankle injury but the former Spurs forward may have to be satisfied with a bench role for this game. Belgian international Christian Benteke (who, perhaps unwisely, claimed to be an Arsenal follower), a summer signing, is likely to retain his place up front for now.
The bad news is Lambert has a number of injury problems. Joe Benneter, Richard Dunne, Chris Herd and Charles N'Zogbia are all unavailable, while Chris Gardner is likely out for the season. Bulgarian Stilian Petrov continues his fight against leukaemia.
Probable Line-Up: Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Stevens; Weimann, Westwood, Ireland, Bannan; Agbonlahor; Benteke
Arsenal, meanwhile, will be without Brazilian left-back Andre Santos. French midfielder Abou Diaby, Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky and Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski are both long-term absentees, while England international Theo Walcott is a doubt for this game, after sustaining a shoulder injury in the north London derby. Ivory Coast international Gervinho is also unavailable.
The good news for Wenger is that another England youngster, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is ready to play again, although the former Southampton youth player may have to wait to displace one of Mikel Arteta, Wilshire or Santi Cazorla from the midfield. Left back Kieran Gibbs is in line to start this game, which means Belgian Thomas Vermaelen will move back to his preferred central defensive slot. Expect German international Per Mertesacker to partner him there, with Frenchman Bacary Sagna on the right. Up front Lukas Podolski and the in-form Olivier Giroud will be the key goal threats.
Probable Line-Up: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Wilshire, Arteta, Cazorla; Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud