Express & Star

Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 2 - Report

Villa scored twice in the final six minutes to beat title-chasing Arsenal and breathe new life into their top four push.

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Substitute Leon Bailey broke the deadlock at the Emirates when he tapped home Lucas Digne’s cross.

Ollie Watkins, who had earlier hit the post, then put the result beyond doubt when he finished superbly past David Raya.

Arsenal, who had won 10 of their previous 11 league matches, went closest when Leandro Trossard was brilliantly denied by Emi Martinez yet Villa thoroughly deserved the victory.


Martinez’s save at point-blank range, came moments after Watkins had seen a shot hit the post and spin wide of the other.

Youri Tielemans also saw an effort hit the bar and post and somehow not cross the line.

At that point you wondered whether it might be Arsenal’s day but Villa, by some way the better side in the second half, kept plugging away and got their rewards late.

This was a seismic result in the Premier League title race, with the Gunners missing the chance to go back top of the table and suffering their first league defeat of 2024.

For Villa, it was a win which once more put them in the driving seat in the race for fourth place, now three points ahead of Tottenham after their 4-0 defeat at Newcastle on Saturday.

This was also Unai Emery’s third win over former club Arsenal and though the Villa boss’ celebrations at the final whistle were muted, he will know what a huge result this was.

The previous occasion, a 1-1 draw at West Ham, was followed by Emery making seven changes for a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City the following day.

There was no repeat of that tactic here, with the Villa boss making just one unenforced change as Leon Bailey dropped the bench to make space for Moussa Diaby. Nicolo Zaniolo was the other player brought into the line-up, skipper John McGinn dropping into a deeper role to cover for the suspended Douglas Luiz.

Arsenal, knocked off top spot by Manchester City’s 5-1 win over Luton 24 hours previously, were given a boost of their own before kick-off courtesy of Liverpool’s shock home defeat to Crystal Palace.

That added to the sense of anticipation around the stadium and the home supporters might have been celebrating an early goal had Bukayo Saka, menacing from the off, aimed his cross from the right side of Villa’s box a foot or so lower. To the visitors’ relief, it sailed just over the head of Kai Havertz.

It was the Germany international who would bring the first save of the match from Martinez, though in truth his shot, after Trossard had picked out his run, was at a comfortable height for the Villa goalkeeper.

Martinez really should have been troubled more by Gabriel Jesus, who planted a header into the side-netting after being picked out at the far post by Saka’s curling centre. The latter then lashed a shot into the side netting at the other side of the goal as the hosts continued to push and probe.

Villa’s attacks were fleeting, though the visitors did give warning of their threat on the break when a smart pass from Zaniolo briefly found Watkins in space but the striker, eager to shift the ball on to his favoured right foot, was quickly crowded out.

So deep were Villa, at times they had seven players in their own box. That wasn’t always the case, however, and a high ball from the back briefly had Havertz running clear only for Carlos to show an impressive turn of pace and snuff out the danger.

It was the Arsenal defence which nearly made the crucial error. Gabriel fired a pass into the back of the unsuspecting Zinchenko and the ball broke to Watkins, who advanced into the box before striking a shot which hit the post and then flew across the face of goal and wide of the opposite upright.

Within seconds, Arsenal thought they had the lead, only for Martinez to somehow deny Trossard at point-blank range when he looked certain to convert Saka’s low cross.

Villa just had to stay disciplined, knowing home nerves would increase the longer it stayed goal-less. The opening 10 minutes of the second half were their most comfortable of the match so far, Zaniolo seeing a shot blocked after being picked out by Watkins.

Just past the hour mark, the woodwork again denied Villa in extraordinary fashion. Tielemans pounced on the clearance from his own corner and from the left-hand side of the box sent a vicious, curling effort dipping over Raya and off the underside of the bar and post. The ball’s failure to cross the line almost denied the law of physics.

Just as in the first half, Martinez was required to prevent the hosts rubbing immediate salt in the wound, flinging himself to his left to keep out Jesus’ shot from the edge of the box.

Yet it was now Villa who had control of the game, who were winning the corners, their 3,000 supporters in one corner of the stadium becoming increasingly vocal.

With six minutes remaining, they went up as one. Torres missed Digne’s cross at the near but Bailey didn’t, arriving beyond the far to squeeze in a finish.

Three minutes later, Watkins added the second. Tielemans lifted a ball over the top and after holding off the challenge of Emile Rowe, hooked a superb finish over the advancing Raya.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Raya, White (Tomiyasu 67), Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Odegaard © (Smith Rowe 79), Rice, Harvertz, Saka, Jesus (Jorginho 79), Trossard (Martinelli 67) Subs not used: Partey, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Kiwior, Vieira, Ramsdale (gk).

Villa (4-4-2): Martinez, Konsa, Carlos, Torres, Digne, Zaniolo, Tielemans, McGinn, Rogers, Diaby, Watkins Subs not used: Cash, Chambers, Lenglet, Duran, Kesler-Hayden, Iroegbunam, Olsen (gk).