Arsenal’s Premier League revival gathered pace as Aston Villa were swept aside 3-1 at the Emirates on Friday Night Football.
Thomas Partey’s first goal for the Gunners (23) was added to in first-half stoppage time by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (45+6) after his initial penalty was saved by Emi Martinez following a VAR review for a foul by Matt Targett on Alexandre Lacazette.
Emile Smith Rowe stretched the hosts’ advantage on the break (56) to cap another impressive display, before Jacob Ramsey scored a late consolation for the visitors (82).
Arsenal are now unbeaten in seven games but after back-to-back draws with Brighton and Crystal Palace, this was the perfect return to winning ways with the victory moving them up to ninth in the Premier League table ahead of the weekend’s remaining games.
The result means Aston Villa stay in 13th place after suffering a third successive league defeat for the first time since July 2020.
Arsenal: Ramsdale (7), Tomiyasu (7), Gabriel (6), White (7), Tavares (8), Lokonga (7), Partey (8), Saka (7), Smith Rowe (8), Aubameyang (7), Lacazette (7).
Subs: Maitland-Niles (n/a), Odegaard (6), Martinelli (n/a).
Aston Villa: Martinez (6), Tuanzebe (4), Konsa (5), Mings (5), Cash (5), Luiz (6), McGinn (5), Targett (6), Buendia (6), Ings (5), Watkins (5).
Subs: Ramsey (7), Bailey (7), El Ghazi (n/a).
Man of the match: Emile Smith Rowe.
How Arteta finally overcame Villa
Mikel Arteta was hoping to achieve a first win of his managerial career against Aston Villa having lost all three of his previous encounters, and there was a gulf in class between the two teams in an opening half dominated by the hosts.
After just 22 seconds, Ollie Watkins was booked after finding himself embroiled in a spat with Gabriel Magalhaes, appearing to kick out at the Brazilian centre-back as he ran onto Matt Targett’s ball over the top.
It would set the tone for an opening period in which the visitors were rattled; Bukayo Saka, who was passed fit after being substituted against Crystal Palace, acrobatically fired wide from an acute angle before Aubameyang fired over from Nuno Tavares’ pass.
Dean Smith had his head in his hands as Villa’s sluggish start continued with Ezri Konsa fortunate to hear referee Craig Pawson’s whistle for a soft foul by Lacazette in the build-up to Aubameyang stroking the ball into the net.
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher said: “Aston Villa have started this game the way they finished the last one. Konsa’s lucky.”
Arsenal made three changes for the visit of Aston Villa as Alexandre Lacazette made his first Premier League start of the campaign. Lacazette came off the bench to score a last-gasp equaliser against Crystal Palace on Monday night and was rewarded with a recall.
Nuno Tavares also made his full league debut with Kieran Tierney absent with an ankle issue as Albert Sambi Lokonga replaced Nicolas Pepe.
Villa were unchanged from their loss to Wolves last weekend although Leon Bailey was back on the bench following a hamstring injury.
Arsenal came within inches of finding the breakthrough on 20 minutes. A foul by Tyrone Mings on Saka allowed the England midfielder the chance to deliver from out wide and, after Partey had hooked the ball back across goal, Gabriel’s snapshot smacked the post.
But Arteta’s side did not have to wait much longer to establish a lead their vibrancy had merited.
Villa conceded three goals against Wolves from set-pieces and their vulnerability from dead-ball situations was exposed once more as Smith Rowe’s corner was flicked home by Partey, getting in front of John McGinn to beat Martinez despite him getting a touch to the header across goal.
It was Partey’s first goal for Arsenal, and his first of any kind since scoring for Atletico Madrid in July 2020.
Smith continued to express his concern on the touchline as another sweeping move led by the impressive Tavares led to Saka’s first-time shot back across goal being kept out by the legs of Martinez.
But Arsenal would deservedly double their lead six minutes into stoppage time at the end of the first half as Pawson was alerted by VAR Michael Oliver to inspect a challenge inside the box by Targett on Lacazette on his pitchside monitor, with enough evidence to suggest a clear and obvious error had been made.
Aubameyang’s spot-kick was initially saved by Martinez down to his right, but the Arsenal captain was alert to stab home the rebound.
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville said: “Dean Smith might be a little bit unhappy with the penalty, but his team have had an absolute mauling in the first half.”
Smith made a tactical change at the restart as Leon Bailey replaced Axel Tuanzebe as Villa reverted to four at the back, and there was more courage and appetite from the visitors in the opening five minutes after the break than in the entire first period.
Emi Buendia drifted into space down the left and his cut-back found Danny Ings with his pull-back only for Ben White to make a crucial block from eight yards out.
But Arsenal caught them with a classic sucker punch to extend their lead and effectively end the contest on the counter.
Aubameyang flicked Tavares’ pass around the corner on the halfway line with a lovely ball to set Smith Rowe away down the left. Konsa was unable to match him stride for stride and Mings’ forlorn attempt only led to a cruel deflection to divert the midfielder’s shot beyond Martinez via the post.
Villa belatedly created their first real opening on 62 minutes as Targett found the inside run of Buendia behind Arsenal’s rearguard but Aaron Ramsdale produced a fine stop with his feet to preserve the clean sheet.
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright said: “It’s a party atmosphere inside the Emirates. What a contrast to the Palace game. The hosts look rampant. Fourteen shots in the first half – the most they’ve had in a single half under Mikel Arteta – and already five more since the break.”
Martin Odegaard replaced Lacazette in the final third of the game as the Frenchman signalled some discomfort – Arteta later explained was merely fatigue – before being given a standing ovation following another energetic display.
1 – Jacob Ramsey has scored his first goal in 30 @premierleague appearances, in doing so becoming Aston Villa’s youngest scorer in the competition (20y 147d) since Jack Grealish netted his first top-flight goal in September 2015 (20y 3d). Lifeline. #ARSAVL pic.twitter.com/ekA9QjQPgk
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 22, 2021
Villa looked for a consolation and Ramsey reduced the deficit with his first Premier League goal. Partey withdrew from a challenge on Bailey before Gabriel failed to get tight to the 20-year-old Ramsey as his first-time strike from the edge of the box flew beyond the distraught Ramsdale.
There might well have been a really nervous ending for Arsenal as a Villa corner moments later was flicked goalwards on the nearside by Mings with the ball flashing past the far post with Ramsdale again motionless.
But Arsenal would absorb Villa’s late rally to record an important win for Arteta after a previously winless October.
What the managers said
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “It was very close to it [Arsenal at their best]. What I liked the most was the way the team reacted to Monday evening. We accepted it wasn’t good enough. We’re the youngest team in the league but that’s not an excuse. We can’t change the age. We have to bring the belief they can play at this level because they can.
“It was a penalty for me. VAR didn’t give us anything against Palace and I thought it was a penalty, irrespective of the time.
“It’s nice to be back in the top half. We’ve had a tough start and today I’m really satisfied with the performance and the result.”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “It was a very poor first half. Not recognisable as a Villa team we have come to know. They deserved what they got. We got dominated physically. If we had got through the half at 1-0 I would have fancied us, but 2-0 was hard to get.
“We knew Arsenal would start strong. I’d love to say it was the system and personnel but we just didn’t play well. Didn’t win enough balls, weren’t good enough on the ball. I’ll accept the second half all day long but the first half was not good enough.”
On the Arsenal penalty: “It is a lower contact tackle. Grey areas, does he touch the ball first or his leg first? I thought they were the ones we were not going to VAR for. I am even wondering why he is allowed to put the rebound in.
“My understanding was he is walking off the pitch if he does not go to VAR, they can’t give me any clarity on that.
“I am concerned by the first-half performance today. You never like losing any game, we will put it right. We have players coming back and more options in a good squad.”
Man of the match: Emile Smith Rowe
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher:
“This was a difficult decision as there’s been so many outstanding performances from Arsenal tonight but Emile Smith Rowe with his goal probably just tips it for him. Sometimes, players pop up and you can’t help but like them.
“I’ve been so impressed by him, and he also got the assist from the corner. He’s had a great combination with Nuno Tavares right throughout this game.”
Carragher claimed an assist having urged him to add goals to his game, as Smith Rowe told Sky Sports: “He gave me the belief! I’ve been working so hard in training, and sometimes you need that bit of luck. There was a bit of a deflection but I’ll take it.”
Seven of Smith-Rowe’s 10 goals for Arsenal in all competitions have come at the Emirates.
Gary Neville said of Smith Rowe: “I think he’s a breath of fresh air. I think he has been since he’s come into the team, him and Saka just make you feel how you should about football – which is just joy. Every time I see these two, they still play with the spirit of kids on the street, which is wonderful to watch.
“For this Arsenal crowd, they are in transition, and they’re uncertain of when they will next compete for the Champions League places and the title, but what they have got are players they can really identify with.”
Arteta added: “Emile was terrific, he’s scoring goals, but I feel it was more about the team today. Scoring should be a habit and he should demand that in his game as he’s capable of doing it. He’s developing more in other areas.
“The other night, he wasn’t 100 per cent fit but he wanted to step forward with the injury he had. He’s changing his ways in terms of the eating habits that he had and I thought he was superb. This was an example of why we wanted to keep him and we’re very happy with him.”
Analysis: Pressure win for Arsenal
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“It was really important for Arsenal tonight after what happened against Palace on Monday night. They really did need to win tonight as there was some pressure on them but they delivered. In the first half, I thought they were fantastic.
“Second half, they did enough. It was always going to be more difficult as we expected a reaction from Aston Villa, but Arsenal still did enough. It’s been a good night for them.
“What Arsenal do is they come out of the traps really quickly for 25-30 minutes here in every single game. They’ve got a lot of speed up front and if they can’t get a goal in that period, sometimes it becomes a struggle for them.
“Getting the goal as they did got the crowd involved, the young players grew in confidence and it became an easier game for them.”
In a sometimes frenzied first half at the Emirates Stadium, when Arsenal were pouring forwards, challenges were flying in from both sides and tempers were fraying, Thomas Partey remained a figure of calm in the centre of the pitch.
Arsenal supporters are still getting to know the 28-year-old following a stop-start first season in England, most of which was played behind closed doors. But this was him at his unflappable best. This was the player the club have pinned so much hope on…
Fortress Emirates again – Opta stats
- Arsenal have won five of their last seven home league games (D1 L1), as many victories as they enjoyed at the Emirates in the 16 on home soil before that (D4 L7).
- Aston Villa have lost six of their last nine away Premier League games (W3), as many as in their previous 19 on the road (W7 D6).
- Arsenal directed nine shots on target against Aston Villa, their most in a Premier League game since a tally of 12 against West Brom in January (the only time they’ve managed more in the competition under Mikel Arteta).
- Aston Villa have conceded 11 goals in their five away games in the Premier League this season, the most in the top-flight in 2021-22.
- Thomas Partey was the first Ghanaian to score for Arsenal in the Premier League, with the Gunners netting more goals via African players in the competition than any other side (219), while only West Ham (16) can boast more different African scorers in the competition than Arsenal (14).
Arsenal host Leeds in the Carabao Cup fourth round on Tuesday before visiting Leicester in the Premier League next Saturday at 12.30pm.
Aston Villa host West Ham in the Premier League next Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off is at 4.30pm.