Ollie Watkins continued his recent hot-streak as Aston Villa bolstered their European hopes with a 1-0 victory over Arsenal at Villa Park.
The forward needed just 74 seconds to open the scoring when he fired a deflected effort past the Gunners’ debutant stopper, Mat Ryan.
It was Watkins’ 12th goal of the season and his fourth in his last five Premier League outings.
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Arsenal went close though Granit Xhaka’s first-half free kick before upping the ante after the interval. Nicolas Pepe and substitute Martin Odegaard had the best of their openings but they could not find a way past their former keeper, Emiliano Martinez to avoid slumping to back-to-back defeats.
The result means Villa have claimed a first league double over the Gunners since 1992-93 and move up to eighth in the table ahead of the rest of the weekend’s action. Arsenal stay 10th, but could drop into the bottom half if results go against them.
Next up, Villa travel to Brighton on Saturday. Arsenal host Leeds on Sunday.
Villa rediscover form with red-hot Watkins key to Euro hopes; Arsenal disappoint. Dean Smith pulled no punches when stating his irritation following the midweek defeat to West Ham. His players duly responded with a magnificent display full of determination, organisation and attacking threat that has been a hallmark of their impressive season. They now have as many points as they recorded in the whole of last term and can continue to dream of European football given that they are only a couple of wins away from the top four (with a game in hand on most sides) in a season packed with surprise results.
In the end, the defence got them over the line with an imperious collective performance but Watkins provided the platform courtesy of the early goal. He once again demonstrated what a shrewd bit of business it was by Smith to bring him to Villa Park. If he can continue to hit the goal trail in the run-in, it will be vital to Villa’s European push and also give Gareth Southgate and England food for thought with the Euros coming up this summer.
As for Arsenal, it’s almost like one step forward, two steps back at times. Arteta may point to a first-half incident that saw Ezri Konsa pick up just a booking for tripping Bukayo Saka as he looked to run free from the halfway line, but overall he’ll be disappointed with his team’s lack of cutting edge when operating in some dangerous areas. They had some good situations throughout a dominant second period but couldn’t find the killer touch. A seven-match unbeaten run in the league has been followed by two defeats in four days and the Gunners remain a rollercoaster of inconsistency. They will need to remedy that in the latter part of this campaign if they are to truly make a push for the European places.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa). The defender made a series of important blocks and interceptions. Put his body on the line when he needed to and epitomised the spirit of the whole Villa side. A brilliant display as part of a superb rearguard action from the hosts.
ASTON VILLA: Martinez 8, Cash 8, Konsa 7, Mings 8, Targett 7, Nakamba 7, Barkley 7, McGinn 7, Traore 7, Watkins 8, Grealish 8. Subs: Trezeguet 6, Ramsey 6.
ARSENAL: Ryan 8, Bellerin 7, Gabriel 7, Holding 7, Cedric 6, Partey 7, Xhaka 7, Pepe 8, Smith Rowe 7, Saka 8, Lacazette 6. Subs: Aubameyang 6, Odegaard 6, Willian 6.
2’ - GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-0 Arsenal. Watkins gets Villa off to a flyer. The forward steers Traore's cut back from the right into the corner via a deflection.
29’ - ARSENAL CHANCE! Xhaka bends a superb 30-yard free kick towards the postage stamp but is thwarted by a fine save from Martinez.
31’ – ASTON VILLA CHANCE! Traore spins brilliantly in the area but sees his clipped effort smartly saved by Ryan. The ball breaks for Barkley who sees his follow-up blocked.
52’ - ARSENAL CHANCE! Pepe takes Smith Rowe's pass, jinks inside and flashes just wide of the far post from the left of the area.
69’ - ARSENAL CHANCE! Pepe spins into space on the left side of the box and sizzles in a deflected shot that Martinez somehow diverts away with his right boot.
83’ – ASTON VILLA CHANCE! Watkins steers a shot towards the far post on the stretch, but sees it roll agonisingly wide.
84’ - ARSENAL CHANCE! Odegaard arrives on cue to meet Saka's cut back, but rifles over the bar. Arteta holds his face in his hands. That was a big chance.
Ryan conceded just 74 seconds into his first Premier League start for Arsenal, becoming just the fourth goalkeeper in the competition's history to concede within the opening two minutes of their full Premier League debut for a club.
Watkins is the first Aston Villa player to score in three consecutive Premier League matches at Villa Park since Darren Bent in November 2011.
Martínez is the third goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in their first two Premier League appearances against a club they’ve previously appeared for in the competition after Shaka Hislop vs Newcastle (1998-99) and Mark Schwarzer vs Middlesbrough (2008-09).
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