Arsenal-Aston Villa Preview
LONDON (SE) - Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert will be watching from the stands as his side plays Arsenal at Villa Park on Saturday, with the Midlanders looking for their first home victory over the Gunners in 14 years.
Lambert was this week fined £8,000 and given a one-match touchline ban after admitting a Football Association improper conduct charge relating to comments he made following last Saturday's 5-0 loss at Manchester City.
Defeat at the Etihad Stadium saw the Villains (2-3-7) slip down into the relegation zone for the first time this season, having picked up just five points in their last eight Premier League matches. Villa's poor run of form has also seen them win just two of their last 18 league games on home soil dating back to December 2011.
Despite overseeing Villa's worst start to a league campaign for over 40 years, Lambert appears to have retained the support of his players.
Scottish midfielder Barry Bannan has hailed Lambert's impact on the club and remains confident Villa will move up the table.
"I appreciate the fans are worried about being in the bottom three, but it's not fazing us and it's certainly not fazing the gaffer," said Bannan. "He (Lambert) has real belief in his players and where we're going as a team and as a club. I've never met anyone with such focus and drive. He's so single-minded.
"He has total, utter faith in us as players and that creates masses of confidence in the group. We're not stupid. We know we need results and we don't want to stay in the lower reaches for long. We know we are moving in the right direction."
Arsenal - who are sixth in the standings with 19 points from 12 league outings - are currently oozing confidence.
After trouncing north London rivals Tottenham 5-2 in the Premier League last weekend, the Gunners (5-4-3) secured a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League for a 13th straight year after beating French club Montpellier 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere scored his first Arsenal goal since returning from a long-term ankle injury in the win, and Gunners boss Arsene Wenger was quick to sing the praises of Wilshere and his in-form team.
"It's fantastic. I always said if we have Jack back in January, we (would) have done well. He has done much better than expected," Wenger told reporters after the Montpellier match. "What is good to see as well, is that he can absorb games now. I don't forget that he has been out for 17 months and that we still have to be a bit sensible.
"I feel we've done our job recently and that of course is a big positive. It was two big games, and even by winning last night, we were not sure to qualify for the last 16 but we did it. We are happy. We just want to go on from there. We now have two difficult away games again, first at Aston Villa. We want to prepare well and try to win this game."
Villa striker Darren Bent is expected to return from an ankle problem but Chris Herd, Richard Dunne, Joe Bennett and Charles N'Zogbia have been ruled out. Arsenal winger Theo Walcott should make the trip to Villa Park after sitting out the Montpellier match.
Arsenal won all three times these sides met last season, including knocking Villa out of the FA Cup in the 4th round. The Gunners won 3-0 at home in the league and 3-2 at home in the Cup, while beating Villa 2-1 at Villa Park.