September 18, 2014

After securing a spot in the round of 16 in the Champions League, Arsenal can now focus on continuing their success in the Premier League.

That might not be too much of a challenge Sunday when they try to extend their lengthy undefeated run at Aston Villa.

Olivier Giroud recorded a hat trick to key the 3-0 victory over Olympiacos on Wednesday that helped the Gunners overturn a first-leg disadvantage and advance to the knockout round of the Champions League for the 13th straight year.

"We are ready to play under pressure," Arsenal keeper Petr Cech told the club's official website. "Hopefully it will help us to progress as a team for the next phase of the league, and also in the Champions League."

A day before the Gunners (9-3-3) learn who their round of 16 opponent in February will be, they'll try to win back-to-back top-flight matches for the first time since their five-game Premier League winning streak spanned Sept. 26-Oct. 31. In Arsenal's defence, they've only lost once in their last nine league fixtures and are coming off a 3-1 home victory over Sunderland from last Saturday.

Giroud, who had an own goal in that game, also scored the proper way.

"He has gone through this calendar year with ups and downs but overall it is typical Olivier Giroud," manager Arsene Wenger said of Giroud, who has scored eight of his 13 overall goals in the Premier League.

"That means when it doesn't work, he puts effort in ... If you look at his record, I believe he has special qualities that are difficult to find."

Giroud has scored in four straight matches against Villa (1-3-11) over all competitions.

Buried at the bottom of the Premier League table with relegation looking more like a reality with every passing match, the Villans' only league victory came at promoted Bournemouth to open the season. They've dropped three straight to Arsenal, been outscored 8-0 in the last two meetings and are 0-7-9 against them at Villa Park since Dec. 13, 1998.

However, former Gunners defender Remi Garde is now managing the Birmingham side and could provide his club with some extra incentive. Garde, who played under Wenger from 1996-99 and won a Premier League title in 1998, is more realistic.

"It was a long time ago," he said. "Everything has probably changed at Arsenal except (Wenger). I know very well the team, but probably we'll need more than that to get points from this game."

Despite Villa's current circumstances, Garde has welcomed the challenge since taking over last month.

"Every game is a different challenge," he told Villa's official website. "That's what we like about this job. We know there is no easy game ... Everywhere you go it's difficult because everyone wants to win.

"You get addicted to this pressure. It's such a good feeling when you finish a game with points and happiness."

Reports have surfaced Villa are interested in signing former Premier League staple and current Roma striker Ashley Cole during the January transfer window. However, Cole can't help the Villans this weekend as they try to end an 0-2-6 home drought dating to last season.

Garde's side does have something positive to build on after playing Southampton to a 1-1 draw at St. Mary's last Saturday for their second point in four matches under his watch. Joleon Lescott scored his first of the season on Jordan Veretout's second assist in as many contests.

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