Late Villa goals dent Arsenal’s title challenge

Villa striker Ollie Watkins scored his 19th goal of the season against Arsenal

Aston Villa produced an outstanding performance to stun Arsenal at Emirates Stadium and leave Manchester City in pole position in the Premier League title race.

The game started with high anticipation for the Gunners after Liverpool’s shock home defeat by Crystal Palace, but Arsenal were desperately disappointing and well beaten as Villa boss Unai Emery made a winning return to his former club.

Arsenal were fortunate to remain on level terms for so long against the impressive visitors, who secured a deserved win to move three points ahead of Tottenham in fourth, having played a game more.

The only surprise was that it took Villa until six minutes from the end of normal time to open the scoring – Ollie Watkins and Youri Tielemans hit the woodwork in each half before Leon Bailey finally broke the deadlock with a low finish at the far post.

Arsenal were kept out in the first half when Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made a stunning save from Leandro Trossard, but the visitors wrapped up the win when Watkins raced clear in the 87th minute to loft a composed finish over David Raya.

It completed a perfect weekend for reigning champions City, with Pep Guardiola’s side now two points clear of Arsenal, who are ahead of third-placed Liverpool on goal difference.

Gunners fluff their lines

Arsenal were presented with the perfect opportunity to strengthen their title chances after fellow contenders¬†Liverpool lost 1-0 to Palace¬†at Anfield in Sunday’s earlier kick-off.

Instead, with a heavy weight of expectation, Arsenal produced one of their worst performances of the season and can have no complaints about the outcome.

The crucial moment of a tight, tense first half came when former Arsenal keeper Martinez somehow kept out Trossard’s close-range shot just before the break when it seemed certain the Belgian would score.

After that, Villa took charge.

The Arsenal side who won so convincingly in their previous league game at Brighton were never in evidence, with only captain Martin Odegaard providing the prompting, although he, like his colleagues, looked desperately jaded after the break.

Arsenal always looked vulnerable to Villa’s pace on the counter and as the game entered its closing stages there was only going to be one winner – with Emery’s side pressing forward and the Gunners hanging on.

This will be a day of bitter disappointment for Arsenal but, like Liverpool, they need to recover swiftly because they simply cannot afford any more mistakes with defending champions City now sitting ominously at the top.

Top class Villa get their reward

Villa deserved every moment of the celebrations they shared with the travelling fans at the conclusion of this outstanding win.

Emery’s side carved out a huge result in the context of the chase for the top four, and no-one can begrudge them their triumph.

Indeed, the victory margin should have been even wider.

The visitors troubled Arsenal’s back four throughout with Watkins rolling a finish against the post in the first half, before Tielemans’ fine curling effort somehow stayed out in the second half – remarkably hitting the bar then the post.

Former Arsenal manager Emery set his side up perfectly and was a whirlwind of activity in his technical area as he directed operations.

It was all beautifully orchestrated. This entire performance was an illustration of Emery’s expertise in galvanising Villa.

It may have taken a stunning save from Martinez to keep them level in the first half but no-one should suggest this was any sort of ‘smash and grab’.

This was a hard-earned victory and totally worthy of how Villa played.

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