A french battle for vital 3pts

Wenger's Arsenal could go top of the table, Garde's Villa need to get off the foot

LONDON • Master will take on apprentice when Arsenal travel to Villa Park for their Premier League clash against Aston Villa tomorrow.

Arsene Wenger will pit his wits against Remi Garde, one of the first players he signed for Arsenal, with both Frenchmen needing a win for different reasons.

Aston Villa are bottom of the league - six points adrift of 19th-placed Sunderland, while Arsenal could leapfrog surprise leaders Leicester before the Foxes host Chelsea on Monday.

Wenger, in his 20th campaign as Gunners manager, said he has never seen such a competitive title race like this season's. And he believes it may require fewer points than usual to become champions.

Chelsea won the title with 87 points last year although 80 would have been enough, with runners-up Manchester City finishing on 79. And the average points total for the champions, since the Premier League went to 20 teams in 1995, is 85.7.

"It could be 78, something like that," Wenger told a press conference yesterday. "It's because of the quality and intensity of the competition, and because of the improvement of the teams who don't fight for the championship but can beat teams who do fight for it.

"You could say six to eight teams could compete for the championship this year. I've never known a Premier League race like this but I think you see the real trend after Christmas, always.

"You always have a surprising team in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester. The question is whether they can maintain their run. It's about consistency and Leicester are providing that, and the number of goals they score indicates they will remain up there and we have to consider them as fighting for the championship."

Garde is battling at the other end of the table but Wenger said his compatriot had the "competence and intelligence" to succeed with Villa.

The 49-year-old yesterday confirmed that he is interested in bringing former Arsenal left-back Ashley Cole back to England in the January transfer window.

Cole left Chelsea in July 2014 to join AS Roma on a free transfer, but has not played for the Italian side since March.

Villa have the worst goal difference in the division and Garde is in the market for a left-back after a season-ending knee injury to Jordan Amavi.

"Every good player is interesting for me and Ashley is a good player," he said. "He is someone who has experience but he didn't play for a while now. Experience is also something we need.

"I will speak soon with the club and I'm already working on the January window. We know what we want to do."

Jack Grealish has been restored to the squad as Garde looks for his first win with Villa. But he is likely to be without captain Micah Richards.

REUTERS

ASTON VILLA V ARSENAL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'A french battle for vital 3pts'. Print Edition | Subscribe