BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Robin Van Persie of Arsenal celebrates his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal at Villa Park on December 21, 2011 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
If you're a results-oriented fan, Aston Villa's season is effectively over. There is nothing tangible to be achieved here. Aston Villa will not contend for the league title, the FA Cup, or any European qualification worth speaking of. Neither will they be relegated to the Championship. Two weeks ago, Aaron referred to it as "the slog", this anhedonic period that we Villa fans have become all too used to in recent seasons.
Our brothers and sisters at The Short Fuse, however, have a great deal at stake here. They'll expect to be fighting for Champions League qualification, and let's face it, they're going to be counting on three points here. They've been absolutely tearing it up of late, having won their last six(!) games in the league. Any of you that are unlucky enough to still remember our last encounter will recall our galling second-half collapse, as Arsenal came from behind to put us out of the FA Cup. I wouldn't expect much better here.
For the optimists, I'd remind you that we actually won this fixture under similar circumstances last year, an event that I was lucky enough to attend. Furthermore, the Guardian claims that Aston Villa have taken more points at the Emirates than any other club in the Premier League. If Alex McLeish decides to go experimental, it is entirely possible that Aston Villa could take Arsenal by surprise. Charles N'Zogbia is battling a bit of knee trouble at the moment, and that could open up a spot in the side for a Gary Gardner or a Barry Bannan, which I'm sure we'd all love to see. Also, with Richard Dunne's continued absence, Carlos Cuellar is expected to partner with James Collins again at the back. Which, if you're enjoying the Cuellar renaissance as much as I am, is welcome news.
As far as I can tell, Alex McLeish has two options: he could field an unadventurous lineup with the cautious hope of snatching a point, or he could throw caution to the wind and put faith in some of Villa's lesser known quantities. While it could very well lead to a hammering of biblical proportions, that is what I'd like to see. However, I would be a terrible football manager, and I think that Alex McLeish has established his credentials this season as a manager who sees fit to concede, rather than challenge, the relative superiority of a bigger club. If pressed for a prediction, I'd expect Aston Villa to set out looking for a draw and lose 2-0. Put your money on an Emile Heskey cameo.