Result: Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa
Competition: Premier League
Date: 8 November 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Elneny, Saka, Willian, Aubameyang, Lacazette.
Subs: Runarsson, Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Nketiah
A Bukayo Saka own goal and a second half brace by Ollie Watkins saw Aston Villa rout Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates on a night that leaves Mikel Arteta with many questions to answer.
The Gunners came into the match with the Premier League’s best defensive record but couldn’t shackle Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley who created chances at will for the visitors.
It was a thoroughly miserable evening for the home side who now have a two-week Interlull to chew over this result sitting 11th in the table.
Mikel Arteta kept faith with the same starting XI and squad that beat Manchester United last weekend. In his pre-game chat with Sky Sports, Arteta was asked if it was an easier team selection. He replied: “It’s not simple, the boys are performing well and they are giving me a headache to the last moment.” He went on to add: “We need to put back-to-back wins together now, sustain a good level and be as high as possible up the table.”
On a wet night in north London, Villa made a start as slick as the Emirates turf. Inside the opening minute, Grealish cut into the box and found McGinn with a cutback and the Scot found the top left corner with a hammer of a finish. Leno was nowhere near the ball but felt his vision was impeded by Barkley. After much complaining, VAR took a look and advised Martin Atkinson to do the same on the pitchside monitor. After a long wait, the referee disallowed the goal. It was a relief, but the reprieve was only temporary.
Much like the game against Leicester, the Gunners had plenty of possession but we struggled to make any real headway. Partey nearly caused Martinez – making his first appearance back at Arsenal – some embarrassment when he closed down the keeper and Willian skied an effort from an Auba cross. That aside it was tepid stuff from Arteta’s men.
For their part, Villa looked very confident on the ball. Grealish and Barkley were playing with a swagger and that was no more apparent than in the build-up to the opening goal on 25 minutes. The England international spent an age toying with us on the left side of our box, teasing Willian and Holding into challenges they didn’t want to make. In the blink of an eye, they upped the pace, a reverse pass by Barkley freed Targett who played a dangerous ball across the six-yard box for Trezeguet at the back post. Saka ended up getting the final touch as the ball nestled past Leno. (0-1)
As the half wore on, we worked decent positions down the flanks and played some dangerous balls into the box, but somehow they were always met by a Villa man. Bellerin was also guilty on a couple of occasions of bad decision-making in the box. Our best, and only noteworthy chance, fell to Lacazette who headed over a brilliant Tierney cross when he should, at least, have tested Martinez. It was the finish of a man who is seriously low on confidence.
Thomas Partey, was holding his left thigh at times in the first half, was replaced by Dani Ceballos at the break. The Spaniard was very eager to make an impression, constantly demanding the ball from his teammates and trying to up the tempo. He even tried his luck from the edge of the box on 55 minutes with a curling effort that went wide of Martinez’s right post.
In between, Trezeguet stung Leno’s palms and Willian made a hash of a shot after Douglas Luiz headed an Aubameyang cross into his path.
The visitors continued to look the more likely to score again. Barkley and Grealish tore us apart down the left and Leno was forced to produce a great save to stop the latter doubling the visitors’ lead. Soon after Grealish connected with a corner to lash a volley goalwards that Tierney bravely blocked with his chest.
Back came the Gunners. Holding went just wide trying to sweep home a Gabriel pass after both went forward for a corner. We further upped the ante sending on Nketiah and Pepe for the ineffective Willian and Lacazette. The Ivorian didn’t take long to threaten, whipping a trademark left foot curler just wide.
Then, disaster. Villa doubled their lead. Douglas Luiz played a diagonal over the defence, Barkley volleyed a cross to Watkins who headed home on the line. To be fair it was probably deserved. Dean Smith’s men had looked dangerous with every attack. (0-2)
At this point, we were all over the place. Were it not for Ceballos, Grealish might have added to the score inside a minute. The Spaniard made a vital block on the line. It didn’t matter. On 75 minutes, a Villa break saw Grealish play in Watkins who fired through Leno’s legs. (0-3)
Villa coasted through the closing stages as we ran around unsure whether we should push forward and leave ourselves further exposed or just accept the inevitable.
Make no mistake about it, this was, by some distance, the worst performance of Arteta’s 11 months in charge. It’s all the more disappointing coming a week after the hard-fought victory at Manchester United.
If we really are to challenge for a Champions League place, we’re going to have to get a hell of a lot better in the build-up to Christmas.