Aston Villa – Arsenal was a tight, tense clash but the hosts kept their European hopes alive and put a dent in Arsenal’s recent resurgence.
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A defensive mix up after 74 seconds led to the only goal of the game as Cedric played a poor pass which allowed Ollie Watkins to finish and Villa held on fairly comfortably for the win.
The victory moves them on to 35 points, as they have a game in-hand over most of their top eight rivals. Arsenal remain on 31 points, as Mikel Arteta’s side suffered back-to-back defeats this week.
Three things we learned
1. Watkins regains early-season form: He has four goals in his last five Premier League games and Watkins is back to his early-season best. The former Exeter and Brentford has 12 goals in his debut Premier League season, and that has added a different dynamic to Villa’s attack. Most of their fine defensive work comes from the hard-working example he sets up top, as he sets the tone for Grealish and Barkley to buzz around underneath him.
2. Arsenal’s mistakes are back: In midweek it was David Luiz and Bernd Leno making silly mistakes as they lost a game at Wolves which they should have won, and early on at Villa it was Cedric’s mistake which cost Arsenal dear. That will leave Mikel Arteta fuming, as Arsenal’s fine form over the festive period was meant to spark a top four push. Instead they have now lost 10 games so far this season and they’ve looked disjointed in attack and didn’t deserve to win at Villa.
3. Defensive improvement key for Villa: Emiliano Martinez, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa, Matty Cash and Matt Targett have been pretty much ever-present as a back five and Villa’s massively improved defense has been key to their incredible turnaround. Villa have now equalled their points tally of 35 from last season in just 21 games this season, and that’s because they don’t concede sloppy goals. That trend started during ‘Project Restart’ in the summer. They have 11 shutouts in their 21 games so far and that is a remarkable record. Only Man City have more shutouts than Villa this season and they look so confident of holding onto a lead.
Man of the Match: Tyrone Mings – A key man at center back and a real leader for Villa as they held on to yet another lead.
Villa got off to a perfect start as Bertrand Traore nipped in after Cedric left his pass short to Gabriel, and he set up Watkins to slot home. With less than two minutes on the clock, Arsenal were behind.
Arsenal improved after going behind and Granit Xhaka’s free kick was tipped over by Emiliano Martinez.
Villa almost scored a second before the break but Ryan denied Traore’s chip and Barkley’s follow up was blocked by Gabriel.
Nicolas Pepe smashed a shot wide as Arsenal worked hard to try and get back level.
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Villa started the second half on top and Watkins was denied by Ryan, twice, as Arsenal struggled to contain the in-form striker.
Pepe then ran at goal but curled wide as the game opened up late on, as Ryan denied John McGinn’s shot from distance.
Grealish was denied by Ryan in the closing stages too as Arsenal brought Martin Odegaard, Willian and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on.
Odegaard went close to scoring his first Arsenal goal but fired an effort over, and that was as close as the Gunners came to an equalizer.