Arsenal would have looked at tonight’s clash with Aston Villa as a potential banana skin. The Gunners have lost their last three encounters with Dean Smith’s side and were coming off the back of a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on Monday. In the end though, Mikel Arteta can be very pleased with a comfortable 3-1 and a fairly dominant display at the Emirates.
The first half was one-way traffic, with Aston Villa never getting into the game. They failed to register a shot on target, while Arsenal started fast. Someone else who started the game fast was Ollie Watkins, who received the Premier League’s fastest yellow card so far this season after 61 seconds. His skirmish with Gabriel led to almost the entire Arsenal team piling in asking for a red card, but a yellow was correct.
A Bukayo Saka cross saw a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bicycle kick come back the England winger’s way, but he couldn’t keep his shot down. Nuno Tavares then burst down the left and put a shot over from an admittedly tight angle. Arsenal would then have a goal chalked off when Aubameyang’s driven finish was disallowed for an Alexandre Lacazette foul on Ezri Konsa in the build-up. There didn’t look to be much in it, and if anything Konsa was responsible for the initial wrestling that led to the whistle being blown.
Thomas Partey came the closest in the early going, acrobatically getting his boot on the end of a deep cross to hit the bar. He would not have to wait long for another opportunity though, nodding in an Emile Smith Rowe corner for his first Arsenal goal. Smith Rowe continued to make the Gunners tick, triggering a counter-attack that set Tavares free on the left-hand side. His excellent cross found Saka, who had time but snapped at his shot and drew a good save from former Arsenal stopper Emi Martinez.
Martinez would find himself at the centre of the drama after the whistle blew for half time. A VAR check took place centred on Matt Targett’s challenge inside the box on Lacazette. The France international had artfully got between the defender and the ball, drawing enough contact to win a penalty. Aubameyang stepped up against a keeper he had faced in training dozens of times over the years. Martinez used this scouting to save the spot-kick, but the striker powered in the rebound.
Villa boss Dean Smith, having calmed down from his remonstrations at the penalty decision, made an attacking change for the second half. Defender Axel Tuanzebe was replaced by the returning Leon Bailey, but he could not recreate the stunning impact he had in his substitute appearance against Everton a few weeks ago.
A superb one-touch ball over the top from Aubameyang put Smith Rowe into space behind the Villa back-line, and the midfielder finished with aplomb. Wrong-footing Martinez, the promising 21-year-old hit a quality finish off the post and in. At the other end, Aaron Ramsdale was finally called into action when he snuffed out a good Emi Buendia shot.
Arsenal were put under slightly more pressure as the half wore on. Ben White beat Tyrone Mings to a header to clear his lines during one attack from the away side. Villa finally got some encouragement in the form of a stunning strike from Jacob Ramsey. A Bailey dribble fell at the feet of the young midfielder, and he dispatched it with aplomb. Bailey then sent a late free-kick over the bar, just to put a last blast of nervousness through the Arsenal faithful. It wasn’t enough though as Arsenal ran out deserving 3-1 winners.