Arsenal Vs Aston Villa, Sun 15 May 2011

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Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen is set to return for Arsenal after nine months out with a niggling Achilles problem in the Barclays Premier League clash with Aston Villa.

Captain Cesc Fabregas (thigh) and midfielder Samir Nasri (hamstring) face late fitness tests. Abou Diaby (calf) and Tomas Rosicky (thigh) are also out.

However, full-back Gael Clichy is available again after missing the defeat at Stoke with a hamstring problem.

Villa defender Ciaran Clark is out.

Assistant manager Gary McAllister confirmed that although Clark trained for nearly a full session today, he will not travel due to a niggly hamstring problem.

However, midfielder Jean Makoun does return to the squad after missing the last two matches with a dead leg injury.

Vermaelen admits it has been "horrible" sitting on the sidelines as Arsenal struggled defensively.

But he maintains the back four should not shoulder all the blame for the goals which have flowed past the Gunners to end trophy challenges on all fronts.

Vermaelen impressed in his debut Barclays Premier League campaign after a #10million move from Ajax during June 2009 and, in his absence, Arsenal's defence rarely looked as stable.

Manager Arsene Wenger feels if Vermaelen, an unused substitute in last weekend's defeat at Stoke, had been fit all season, some of the soft goals they conceded would not have transpired.

The Belgian, though, firmly believes keeping a clean sheet must always be collective responsibility.

"It has been a long period, which has been a horrible time, but it is finished now and I am happy to get back on the pitch," Vermaelen told Arsenal TV Online.

"I always thought I would be fit in a few weeks, and then had setbacks.

"However, I am cured now and it is absolutely fine."

Vermaelen said: "The other guys have done quite well, but there is always talk about the back four of Arsenal.

"Of course you have to defend well and have your individual qualities, but defending is always teamwork as well.

"You have to look at every goal we concede and say, `How did it come?'. It is not always a mistake just of the defenders, more or less it is from a few players.

"There have been too many games where we were not good enough."


Wenger recognised that Vermaelen's absence meant summer arrival Laurent Koscielny, sidelined tomorrow with a thigh problem, had to adapt to the hustle and bustle of the English game sooner than expected.

"Vermaelen has played just three games in the whole season, and that was not envisaged at all, because he is a solid player," said the Arsenal manager.

"To lose him for such a long time in the season was not ideal, however that matured Koscielny, who was planned to maybe get 20 games this season, and also Johan Djourou, who had a good season as well.

"However, we did not count at the start to have Vermaelen out for such a long time."

McAllister, meanwhile, is adamant none of his players are already thinking they are on their summer holiday.

Asked if his players thoughts had turned to sunnier climes and the prospect of lying on a beach, McAllister said: "There'll be none of that.

"The fact we're playing Arsenal and Liverpool in these final two games, that cannot be allowed to happen. Players with pride won't allow that to happen.

"They will be going in there pitting their wits against two very good teams, two sets of players you can measure yourself against."

Despite Villa's atrocious record in north London - both at Highbury and the Emirates Stadium which has seen them win just once in their last 16 visits - McAllister feels Villa can exploit the Gunners' current frailties.

Since back-to-back defeats to Barcelona and Manchester United in March to end their interest in the Champions League and FA Cup respectively, Arsenal have collected a mere 11 points from the last 27 on offer to slide out of contention in the title race.

"As an ex-player, this is a fixture you always look for," added McAllister.

"When I played I loved the fixture against Arsenal. It's always a great barometer for you to measure yourself against good players.

"Arsenal have been a fantastic team for a long time, and if you can go there and be a player and project yourself, it's a good sign you can cope with playing against good players and a good team.

"If you sit back and admire Arsenal and allow them to get into a rhythm then they can be very dangerous. There is no team as pretty on the eye as Arsenal can be.

"But they have had a tough, frustrating season as well, and as much as I'll pass on the strengths of Arsenal, we have to be looking at the weaknesses that have crept into recent results."

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