Stoke City

The last three games for Arsenal are turning out to be huge. It starts with Stoke on Saturday in what is usually a difficult game for the Gunners. It is well known that the Britannia is a tough stadium to go to and I believe this will be a big test for Arsenal who have only recorded two wins in their last five premier league games.

Battle for Third

The Gunners currently hold third place by three points from an in form Newcastle, who have a game in hand. The third place spot has become much more important this week due to Chelsea’s heroics at the Nou Camp in midweek. It may only be the top three that get champions league football this year, and therefore Arsenal must press on and get maximum points from the last three fixtures.

Chelsea

How Arsenal's 2011/12 campaign will be remembered may depend heavily on Saturday's game against Chelsea.

Just as the Gunners looked to be in cruise control in securing 3rd place and automatic qualification for next season's Champions League, they ran into a well-drilled Wigan side and fell to their first home defeat against the Lancashire outfit since the inception of the Premier League.

“Bouncebackability”

To use the convoluted Iain Dowie phrase, Arsenal have shown "bouncebackability" in the second half of the season. Much of Arsenal's rise to 3rd place in the table has been down to the positive way they have responded to defeats.

The dispiriting FA Cup elimination at Sunderland was followed up by the unforgettably chimeric demolition of Tottenham. The lethargic 2-1 reverse against QPR was offset by a 1-0 win over Manchester City that flattered the one time champions-elect.

Arsenal will have to repeat the trick for a third time to keep the hordes of Spurs, Newcastle and Chelsea at bay in the race to make next season's Champions League.

WiganThey were all laughing. I can still see it so clearly. The day was April 18, 2010 and Arsenal was playing Monday’s opponents, Wigan Athletic, in an end of season affair not dissimilar from this one. But that was really no excuse for what happened, is it?

Just to remind readers, it was a nice sunny day in northern England and we had taken a lead in the 41’ through Theo Walcott only to double our advantage early in the second half when Mikael Silvestre (gulp) scored with a looping header. The ensuing celebration was a mix of self-congratulatory high-fiving and laughter as if it was a Sunday at the county fair instead of a football match against at team of professionals struggling for survival.

Well, those smiles were quickly smacked off our faces as Wigan dominated proceedings going forward finally scoring in the 80th, equalizing in the 88th, and then winning it with a Charles N’Zogbia wonder strike in the 90th.

On paper this seems like a cakewalk. Arsenal are the Premier League’s form team, while Wolves are the exact opposite. They languish at the bottom of the table six points from safety while Arsenal are currently leading the race for Champions League qualification. It may not be that simple however.

Frustration at Christmas

In the last meeting between these sides on December 27th, Arsenal seemed to be cruising to victory when a Steven Fletcher goal and a brilliant goalkeeping display from Wayne Hennessey held the Gunners to a 1-1 draw.

At this point however, Wolves were still under the stewardship of Mick McCarthy and weren’t doing all that poorly.

A 1-0 result midweek against Everton gave Arsenal their sixth straight Premier League victory. They will look to make it seven when they face an Aston Villa side that are coming off an impressive victory of their own. The string of results, along with Tottenham and Chelsea being in poor form, has seen Arsenal climb up to third in the league table. It has been a different story for Villa, as they have only one win in their last six.

Team News

Arsenal: There are no new injuries to report. It was reported last week that Per Mertesacker’s season was over. Some good news for the Gunners is that Jack Wilshere seems to be edging closer to returning but Arsene Wenger has said he will not rush the midfielder.

Aston Villa: They will be without their captain as Richard Dunne is set to head to the United States in an attempt to quicken his recovery from a shoulder injury he suffered.  Ciaran Clark will also miss the match, as Alex McLeish will hope to have the defender back next week. If you recall, the young defender was responsible for both of Villa’s goals in last year’s 4-2 home defeat to Arsenal.