Subscribe to Miguel Delaney’s Reading the Game newsletter for free and receive it directly in your inbox.
Subscribe to Miguel Delaney’s complimentary weekly newsletter.
Mikel Arteta observed from a higher position as his forerunner took the spotlight and Aston Villa joined Arsenal in the competition for the title. Unai Emery’s team continued their impressive streak of 15 consecutive home wins, setting a new club record, by securing their second victory of the week at Villa Park. After defeating the reigning champions on Wednesday, Villa emerged victorious against the team that was leading the standings on Saturday night. While both wins were significant and had the same scoreline, they were achieved in completely different ways.
Villa showed excellent energy and dedication, but Arsenal squandered opportunities and lost the chance to increase their lead over Manchester City. Due to Arteta’s suspension, Arsenal could not score a late goal and the manager left the director’s box just before the game ended, as Kai Havertz’s goal was disallowed for handball. Shortly after, Emery celebrated on the sidelines after defeating the team that fired him after 18 months, for the second time since his return to the Premier League.
The return is becoming quite impressive. Are they now in the running for the title? Emery does not see his team as contenders for the top four, but the current standings suggest otherwise. Villa is only two points behind the new leaders Liverpool, and there is a growing gap between them and fifth-place Tottenham, who will host Newcastle on Sunday. The winning goal was scored by the talented John McGinn in the sixth minute, catching Arsenal off guard with a brilliant counterattack. Despite being dominated by Arsenal, Villa managed to withstand long periods of pressure and secure another notable victory after their recent triumph against City.
Unfortunately, Arsenal lost momentum. They had kept up with Villa’s determination to dominate the intense midfield struggle, but they lacked their usual precise finishing in the attacking third. Martin Odegaard missed the most promising chances, but Arsenal also fell prey to Emery’s aggressive defensive strategy, which caught out both Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka and prevented Arteta’s team from scoring an equalizer in the second half. After six consecutive victories in all competitions, Arsenal will need to regroup and reassess their tactics as they were unable to score for the first time since their loss to Newcastle.
It is possible that similar inquiries will arise again as Arsenal struggled against another challenging and well-structured defense, even though it was a different formation from Eddie Howe’s team. However, Arsenal was in second place and Villa in third, making them both formidable opponents in good form with clear strategies. Villa’s defense maintained a surprisingly high line, forcing the game into a chaotic middle third, while Arsenal utilized wide players Saka and Martinelli to stretch the field. As Arsenal pushed forward, Villa baited them and lured them to continue attacking.
Both teams identified the vulnerability early on, but the distinction was that Villa capitalized on their chances while Arsenal did not. Saka initiated a long-range passing sequence with Martinelli, utilizing switches from one side of the field to the other. Saka managed to get past Lucas Digne but missed his shot from Martinelli’s impressive cross at the far post. Villa quickly responded with a goal from the goalkick. Arsenal were drawn in to press Emi Martinez, allowing Villa to switch the play to the right and release Leon Bailey. Bailey smoothly made his way into the box and passed to McGinn, who then turned and scored past David Raya.
Villa scored a late goal against City, but they struggled at the beginning of this match. The fans at Villa Park were ecstatic when McGinn ran to the corner of the Holte End, but Arsenal fought back and played well. The game became more physical, especially in the midfield, but Arsenal was able to capitalize on Villa’s mistakes. Led by Declan Rice and Odegaard, they were able to win the ball high up the field and create scoring opportunities, something City was unable to do in their previous match against Emery’s defensive tactics.
Arteta likely felt that his team had performed well enough to end the first half on an equal score. Saka challenged Martinez with a shot after maneuvering past Digne, and Odegaard attempted to score from a wide position, aiming for the inside of the post. Gabriel passed to Martinelli, who chipped the ball over Martinez and forced Diego Carlos to make a clearance off the line, but the play was called offside. Gabriel Jesus assisted Odegaard, but Martinez anticipated it and made a timely dive to his right. Jesus then skillfully evaded Konsa and elicited another impressive save from the former Arsenal goalie.
When Villa had a lead to protect, Arsenal increased their pressure in the second half.
The request for a penalty was ignored after Douglas Luiz made contact with Jesus in the penalty area. From Saka’s corner kick, Martinez made a mistake while trying to catch Ollie Watkins, but both were lucky when the ball hit the post. In the first hour, Zinchenko passed to Havertz who then gave Odegaard the best opportunity for Arsenal to score. However, the Arsenal captain missed the shot and expressed his frustration.
The crowd at the Holte End cheered loudly and Aston Villa played better as Arsenal began to push more players forward. Substitute Moussa Diaby, who came on for the injured Bailey at halftime, posed a threat on the counterattack and created opportunities for Digne and Watkins. However, Raya made two low saves to deny them.
In recent wins against Brentford and Luton, Arsenal scored late goals. However, they were unable to secure a third victory in a row. Havertz believed he had scored a last-minute equalizer, but referee Jarred Gillett determined that the ball had touched his hand before going into the goal. The VAR also agreed with this decision. Arsenal manager Arteta stated that it was a clear and obvious call. Despite this, Arteta left the sidelines before the end of the game as he was disappointed with the result. He had seen enough.