Hello Another Saturday, another early start for Arsenal. Given what happened last time around, Villa should probably be encouraged. Of course, less encouraging for them will be the fact they haven't beaten Arsène Wenger's side in the last 11 meetings at Villa Park.
Indeed, Villa haven't won a lot of games at home lately. So far in 2010, 10 of their 16 games at Villa Park have ended in draws. On a more upbeat statistical note, though, they are yet to lose their this season either.
Enough statistical chicanery Let's get into some team news. As widely predicted, Robert Pires has replaced Stephen Ireland in Villa's starting line-up, and John Carew is back up front after recovering from a calf injury. For Arsenal, Alex Song replaces Cesc Fábregas and there are three changes to the back four that faced Braga - Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Gael Clichy replacing Emmanuel Eboué, Johan Djourou and Kieran Gibbs. Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin are also restored to the team.
Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Ashley Young, Clark, Bannan, Downing, Pires, Carew. Subs: Guzan, Ireland, Delfouneso, Beye, Hogg, Lichaj, Herd.Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy, Rosicky, Song, Wilshere, Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin. Subs: Szczesny, van Persie, Walcott, Denilson, Djourou, Gibbs, Bendtner.
Now clearly, the one thing Arsenal don't need is another player in the 'Pires mould' ... But there has to be at least a tiny feeling of apprehension for Wenger today. Even when you're on good terms with an ex, you still wouldn't normally like to spend time with them on their honeymoon with a new partner. Pires had been training with Arsenal for a good few weeks before signing for Villa. Wenger can only hope the player doesn't give us a reprise of previous performances at this stadium.
I said I was done with the statistics ... But I was lying. OptaJoe on Twitter has just pointed out that Arsenal have won 49% of their Premier League games since 2007-08 without Fábregas in the side, compared to 63% when he is present. Given the earlier figures about Villa at home, I'm going to position myself squarely on the fence and predict a 2-2 draw.
At what age ... Does a kid become too old to be a mascot? I only ask because Aston Villa seem to have about nine of them, and one of them looks like he's a) well into adolescence and b) about 6ft 1ins. You can even see a little stubble ...
Villa Park love-in Pires just went down the whole Arsenal line in the tunnel, shaking hands and even exchanging the odd continental kiss on both cheeks. That's nice, isn't it? Is it?
1 min Crikey - Marouane Chamakh nearly scores an even quicker goal than the one he scored against Wolves a couple of weeks back. Villa gave the ball away inside their own half and with just 20 seconds on the clock Arshavin played his team-mate in with a measured through-ball, but Friedel was out quickly enough to block Chamakh's effort almost as soon as it left his boot.
2 mins Bright start for Arsenal - pinging the ball around quickly and look eager to get an early goal. Nasri nutmegs Collins down by the goalline on the left as he tries to cut the ball back to Chamakh, but the defender gets some contact on the ball, slowing it down and allowing himself to recover and clear.
3 mins Blimey, Villa are all over the place at the minute. This time it's Wilshere who jabs the ball in to Rosicky in space inside the box, but he drags his shot wide of the far post.
5 mins Sagna whips a cross over from just in line with the edge of the area on the right, and Chamakh gets up to meet it inside the area but succeeds only in glancing it across goal and eventually out for a throw-in on the far side. Looks like he may have cracked his head against that of Collins actually.
6 mins Another Chamakh attempt scuds wide of Friedel's right-hand post from the edge of the area, after the ball was played back to him by Wilshere about 20 yards out.
7 mins Villa manage to escape their own half for a moment, only for Downing to foul Squillaci.
8 mins "Wenger should stop buying foreign players," harrumphs Luke Stevenson. "Not because they cant handle the level of football, not because he gets criticised for not producing English talent, but because they insist on wearing those ridiculous scarf concoctions." Nasri and Chamakh are among the players sporting such items this afternoon.
10 mins Villa finally get hold of the ball for a little spell, taking advantage of the opportunity to nudge it gently back and forth to one another inside their own half. Seems like the safest option.
11 mins Koscielny heads for the sideline with blood streaming from his nose after being caught by Carew's arm as they were jumping together for a header. No punishment for Carew, and looking at the replays it doesn't look like there was any real intent.
13 mins Nasri loses possession for Arsenal as he attempts to turn on the halfway line and after two quick passes Pires is released down the left, only for his charge to be halted by an offside flag. The Frenchman was easily on, but it looks like Carew came back from an offside position to receive a pass in the build-up.
14 mins Another fine opportunity goes begging for Arsenal, Chamakh flicking the ball on to Rosicky who had split the centre-backs wonderfully to find space by the penalty spot. With defenders closing in, though, he rushed his shot - jabbing it goalwards with nothing like enough power to beat Friedel.
16 mins After a quiet couple of minutes, Arsenal are beginning to build up a head of steam again. Arshavin squares the ball to Chamakh inside the box, but the striker's first touch is heavy and it runs away from him.
17 mins Now it's Chamakh's turn to feed Arshavin, but the Russian's effort is deflected behind by a defender. From the corner the ball is worked back to Nasri, who fizzes a low drive wide from a few yards outside the box.
18 mins "If there was a continental cheek kissing tradition amongst males in this country it would have been interesting to see how Wayne Bridge would rebuff John Terry," chortles Ian Copestake in response to Pires's pre-match greetings for Arsenal. Erm, presumably by not kissing him?
19 mins Villa win a first corner of the match, but it fails to clear the first man.
21 mins "Doesn't Chamakh sound like a Klingon name," demands the gloriously named Shooby Taylor. "I bet he'll nab a hat-trick today." Honestly, having seen a sum total of one Star Trek movie (in which I'm fairly certain the bad guys weren't klingon), I have absolutely no idea.
23 mins Another Arsenal corner finds its way back to Nasri a couple of yards outside the area but this time his low effort thuds away off someone's thighs. Arsenal's fans are the only ones to be heard at Villa Park. Where are these fans at the home games, eh?
24 mins Arshavin goes down just inside the area on the left and to be honest he had a serious case for a penalty - it looked very much as though he was caught by Collins. The referee ignores the incident, though, and nobody really bothers to appeal.
25 mins Out of nowhere, Villa have probably the best chance of the half. Downing's cross from the right was flicked on to an unmarked Young at the back post, but from about three yards out he managed to poke the ball over the bar. I'd say that even I could have scored it, but in all honesty I've missed far worse.
26 mins Replays suggest Young was probably offside, not that it mattered in the end.
28 mins Why is it that every single Arsenal corner seems to get cleared to Nasri? Does he have some Dick-Dastardly-esque magnet at work? Anyway, this time he opts not to shoot but to pass it backwards instead, and the moment is lost.
30 mins Nasri presses his way down to the goalline on the left, then realises there's nowhere else to go, and so turns around and beats the same defender going back the otherway. Then he runs out of ideas and gets tackled.
31 mins To be fair to Aston Villa here, whilst Arsenal have been all over them for most of the game, they haven't actually given the visitors many clear-cut chances. A whole bucket-load of half-chances, but I'm not sure there have been any where you would say the forward should have scored.
33 mins Dunne nearly gets his name on the wrong part of the scoresheet, clipping a cross not too far over his own bar from five yards out. The corner is cleared.
35 mins Another corner for Arsenal - their sixth of the game - another clearance for Villa. Nasri seems to have misplaced his magnet.
36 mins Sagna clips a short cross onto the head of Chamakh from the right, and the striker nods the ball back for Nasri, but again the Frenchman's shot is blocked on the edge of the box.
37 mins Villa find a way forwards, Bannan getting the ball out to Young on the left, but his cross was cut out by Squillaci before it could reach Carew in the middle.
GOAL! Aston Villa 0-1 Arsenal (Arshavin 39 mins) At last the goal arrives from Arsenal, with the assistance of some comedy defending from Collins and Luke Young, who jumped into each other on the edge of the centre-circle, missing the chipped ball forwards and allowing Arshavin to seize upon it. With a 30-yard run-up the Russian dashed into the area, skipped inside past Dunne and drilled the ball across goal into the bottom corner.
OH MY WORD HOW WAS THAT NOT A SECOND? (40 mins) More shocking defending from Villa - as Warnock inexplicably stops tracking Chamakh, allowing him to sprint unchecked onto Arshavin's pass, round the keeper, and then, slice his shot into the side netting with the goal at his mercy.
42 mins If it's any consolation to Villa, the recent evidence suggests Arsenal aren't very good at second halves.
43 mins "Hey Bobby, what's the French for tedious long ball rubbish," sniggers Niall Mullen, though I think he's being a touch harsh. Villa have been trying to play decent football. That's just not very easy when you never have the ball.
44 mins What a save from Friedel! Chamakh's header from five yards out was firm and on target, but the goalkeeper reacted incredibly sharply to get a firm hand on the ball and push it behind.
GOAL! Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal (Nasri 45 mins) Well it turns out that was only a stay of execution for Villa - the corner from the left is played deep to Nasri on the far side of the area, and from there he crashes it first time through a forest of bodies and into the bottom corner of the net. A wonderful strike and, let's be honest, fair reward for Arsenal's endeavour this half.
Peepety-peeeep! Blimey, decent end to the half for Arsenal, that. Of course this was the score at half-time against Tottenham last week. And also on the last occasion that Villa beat Arsenal at home back in 1998. Back in a tick with some half-time emails.
Appropriate age of mascots "The age at which you are too old to be a mascot is the age at which the satisfaction of being on the pitch with your heroes no longer outweighs the misery of the grief you'll get from your friends," opines John Hoggman in response to my question before kick-off. "So for me that would be roughly 46."
Scarf shenanigans "I take back my previous comment, as I now see that Ashley Young is also wearing a scarf," grumps Luke Stevenson following the fashion accusations he levelled at foreign footballers (8 mins). "I would make a cutting comment on this but I'm currently in a catatonic state of fury."
They think it's all over? "A bit of a lesson from the Arsenal there," sighs Silver Fox, who might just be a Villa fan. "We just can't seem to create chances. one shot against 11 isn't good enough. Can't see us emulating Spurs at all."
46 mins Well, Wenger doesn't need to worry about Pires any more - he's come off to be replaced by Nathan Delfouneso.
47 mins Delfouneso chases a long ball forwards, but he's never getting there and Fabianski claims it happily enough.
48 mins Well Villa are certainly playing some long balls here at the beginning of the second half, Friedel picking out Carew with a huge lump forwards only for the striker to give away possession with a woeful pass out right that is cut out by Clichy.
49 mins Villa continue to come forwards here, and Young's cross from the right only just eludes Carew in the middle before Sagna heads away at the back post. What do Arsenal do at half-time?
OH MY WORD IT'S HAPPENING ALL OVER AGAIN! Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal (Clark 52 mins) That is an absolutely phenomenal strike from Clark, volleyed home from the edge of the area after Squillaci failed to head clear with sufficient conviction, but what on earth has happened to Arsenal. Totally in charge in the first period, they have been on the back foot ever since the second half started and only moments earlier needed some last-ditch defending to prevent another cross from Young reaching Carew two yards out. This game is a very long way from over.
54 mins The flaws in present interpretations of the offside law highlighted yet again by that goal, by the way. Carew was in a clearly offside position when Clark struck his shot, and was also clearly obstructing Fabianski's view of the play.
GOAL! Aston Villa 1-3 Arsenal (Chamakh 56 mins) Arsenal respond to their moment of difficulty in the only way they know how (well, other than total capitulation). A slick exchange of passes outside the box ends with Chamakh being released with a slide-rule pass, and although Friedel was off his line quickly, the striker succeeded in jabbing the ball past him at the near post.
58 mins It will surprise nobody to hear that Arsenal look a lot happier going forwards than they do when defending. Now Wilshere streaks away down the left before attempting a square ball for Chamakh, but Friedel manages to intercept it.
60 mins "The offending piece of neckwear is called a 'snood'," delares Norrie Hernon in response to earlier discussion of scarves from Luke Stevenson. " They are the equivalent of Ugg boots i.e. only worn by morons and C-list celebs (and that's a fairly comprehensive Venn diagram ...)" Now I'm not very fashion-aware, but I thought a snood involved an element of head/hair as well as neck coverage, which these items don't seem to?
61 mins More good work going forwards for Arsenal, as Nasri cuts a low pass back from the goalline on the right to Arshavin attacking the box from deep. The Russian, though, wellies his shot some way over the bar.
63 mins Villa haven't responded well to that Arsenal goal. They really had their tails up coming out of the half-time break but since Chamakh scored they seem to have retreated right back into themselves. Arsenal are playing keep-ball right now and not even in their own half.
65 mins Arsenal overcomplicate things inside the area (now there's a phrase you won't have heard before), Arshavin, Nasri and Chamakh all exchanging passes before the ball is nudge on to ... no, wait, there's nobody there. Still, Villa are very obliging and soon give the ball back.
66 mins Second substitution for Villa - Stephen Ireland on for John Carew.
67 mins The Villa Park crowd rise up in anticipation as Young races forwards on the break into Arsenal territory with options to either side of him, but at the crucial moment he completely underhits his pass and Koscielny steps forwards to intercept.
68 mins Oooh - very nearly a second goal for Clark there as Villa finally shake back out of their torpor. Luke Young's right-wing cross was knocked back from the far post and Clark had a room to work in 10-yards out, but his near-post effort fizzed just wide.
GOAL! Aston Villa 2-3 Arsenal (Clark 71 mins) Well, Clark didn't need long to atone for the mistake. Luke Young headed goalwards from a corner on the right and Clark contorted his body to flick the ball on to the bar with the back of his head, from where it came down just over the line. Game on. Again.
73 mins Arshavin dances across the edge off the Villa area with the ball, before flashing a shot over the bar. Might have done better to play in Nasri.
74 mins "A snood is more of a hood you'll find," declares Graham Buttner, wading into the scarf/snood debate. "Nasri and the rest are in fact wearing what is known as a scarfetta."
75 mins A wonderful piece of control from Samir Nasri, who looked to have little chance of beating Dunne to the ball on the right, but managed to stretch a boot out and flick the ball first time over the defender. From there he cut inside and played a low centre across the six-yard box, but there was nobody on the end of it.
77 mins Chamakh picks up a yellow card, but I missed what for. Andy Gray says it was "one of the easiest decisions the referee will have to make today."
78 mins Villa continue to probe the Arsenal defence, Ashley Young's cross from the left just about flicked away by Clichy at the far post. Wenger does not look like a man enjoying his Saturday lunchtime.
80 mins Villa seem to have a good six players now permanently stationed in Arsenal's half. You suspect there would be opportunities there for Arsenal on the break, if they could get the ball back.
81 mins Chamakh gets a talking to after jumping clumsily into an opponent on the halfway line. Needs to be careful after picking up that booking.
82 mins The ensuing free-kick is not properly cleared and Warnock is thundering on to the loose ball at the back post before Clichy nips in to hoof clear.
83 mins Oh - an absolutely wonderful right-wing cross from Downing arrows right over the area but nobody in a Villa shirt manages to get a head on it. Instead it does take a flick off a defender and Villa will have a corner ...
84 mins ... Which really could have yielded another goal! The corner found Dunne seven or eight yards out but his header, while firm, was straight at Fabianski.
85 mins Two changes for Arsenal, both defensive - Samir Nasri coming off for Kieran Gibbs and Andrey Arshavin for Denilson.
86 mins And immediately Villa make a change too, Barry Bannan replaced by Chris Herd.
87 mins Arsenal finally break out of their own half, Wilshere charging on before trying to play in Chamakh, who gets there too late but might just clip Friedel as he does. The keeper takes a minute to get up, but seems to be fine.
88 mins Gibbs goes to waste time by the corner flag for Arsenal, and winds up winning a corner.
89 mins Absolutely nobody went forward for the corner, and yet Arsenal somehow managed to give away free-kick from it anyway.
90 mins We're going to have four minutes of injury time. Richard Dunne is now playing centre-forward.
90 mins +1 Dunne shows why he's up there, taming a long-ball forwards his head and bringing it under control, but then also shows us why he doesn't normally play up there - losing possession immediately.
90 mins +2 Wenger is furious with Gibbs after the defender fails to head for the corner flag again after picking up the ball in Villa's half. Another Villa long ball is repelled.
GOAL! Aston Villa 2-4 Arsenal (Wilshere 90 mins +3) Arsenal fans can relax at last as Wilshere scores his first Premier League goal to surely now seal the three points. Once again Arsenal failed to head for the corner flag as they broke, with Wilshere instead playing the ball to Gibbs as he cut into the area from the left. He cut it back for Chamakh, who shaped to shoot before clipping the ball on to Wilshere, who headed home from close range.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeep! That is indeed all she wrote from Villa Park. Arsenal win and go top of the league, for the next couple of hours at least. I would hang around to talk snoods, scarfettas, and comedy defending, but I'm moving on immediately to the Premier League Clockwatch. Why not join me there?
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.