Result: Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa
Competition: Premier League
Date: Wednesday 31st August
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tierney, Lokonga, Xhaka, Ødegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Jesus
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Digne, McGinn, Kamara, Ramsey, Bailey, Buendia, Watkins
Arsenal maintained their winning start to the Premier League campaign as they ran out 2-1 winners over struggling Aston Villa.
Gabriel Jesus was in full fox-in-the-box mode when he opened the scoring in the first half. Villa found an equaliser through a stunning Douglas Luiz corner that went all the way in. But Gabriel Martinelli won the game for the Gunners with a back post finish to continue his own fine start to the season.
Arsenal were looking to continue their perfect start to the season and remain atop the Premier League pile with a fifth win on the bounce. But injuries have started to build in the middle of the park and may even force the club to dip into the transfer market before the deadline passes.
Mikel Arteta made one change to the side that beat Fulham on the weekend – with Sambi Lokonga coming in for the stricken Mohamed Elneny, who has picked up a knee injury.
As the sun begin to set over North London, Arsenal set about asserting themselves. But it was Aston Villa who had the first half-chance of the game as Emiliano Buendia scuffed a shot over the bar.
The Emirates crowd was up in arms appealing for a penalty after Bukayo Saka had his shirt pulled before seemingly being thrown to the ground in the area. But VAR said no penalty.
Arsenal’s first attempt on target came from Gabriel Jesus as he was slipped through by a clever, quickly taken free-kick. Emi Martinez saved at his near post. The following corner kick-started a sequence of Arsenal pressure, but Villa survived.
As the clock ticked towards the 20 minute mark, the temperature began to climb. Villa had clearly been instructed to impose themselves physically, to put it gently. The most notable challenge coming from Jacob Ramsey, who received a yellow card.
The most glaring Arsenal chance of the game so far, fell to Saka who shanked the ball high and wide after a wickedly vicious cross from Gabriel Martinelli.
Then on the half hour mark, after over 10 attempts on goal, the Gunners broke the deadlock. It was a Granit Xhaka effort that Martinez failed to deal with properly and Jesus’ goal-getting instincts kicked in as he slotted home the rebound. 1-0 Arsenal.
Arsenal finished the half very strongly as they continued to knock on the door. Saka had another ‘how’s that stayed out?’ moment in a goal-mouth scramble that Villa managed to clear off the line. Then just before the half time whistle went, Martinelli unleashed a stunning volley from outside the area, which was well saved by Martinez.
The second half started with William Saliba picking up a booking for a tactical foul as he dragged down Ollie Watkins. But soon after that, Arsenal were back to dominating possession and re-found their passing rhythm from the first period.
Martinez continued his bizarre performance in the Aston Villa goal as he appeared to get Jesus in a headlock before falling on the ground as if he’d been fouled. It seems the Argentine’s questionable decisions rubbed off on the referee, who awarded Villa the free-kick.
On 64 minutes, Mikel Arteta made his first change of the evening as Takehiro Tomiyasu replaced Ben White, in a like for like swap at right back. A few minutes later, John McGinn was shown a yellow card for what felt like his 100th foul of the game, after a dangerous tackle on Martin Ødegaard.
Then in the 74th minute, having dominated the game throughout, Arsenal allowed Villa back into the game after a Douglas Luiz corner went straight into the goal. Ramsdale appeared to be being held by Watkins, but VAR said nothing doing. 1-1.
But before we could even ask the question of whether Arsenal could respond, they restored their lead. A Saka ball across goal found Martinelli, who squeezed the ball past Martinez at the back post. 2-1 Arsenal.
Arteta was then forced into a change as Ødegaard hobbled off, still feeling the affects of McGinn’s earlier challenge. Fans were delighted to see Emile Smith-Rowe get some minutes, but were also hoping their captain wasn’t too hurt.
Eddie Nketiah came on for Jesus late on, and he went on a brilliant mazy run from the halfway line to the edge of the Villa box, before firing over.
As the full time whistle went, Arsenal were a little more reserved in their festivities, no doubt much to the delight of the celebration police. Perhaps that was because up next its a trip to Old Trafford and a face off against the old enemy: Manchester United.
There’s still question marks over Arsenal’s ruthlessness and ability to kill games early, but if they keep showing the character they have this week, there’s every chance this could be a great season.