Despite leading twice, Aston Villa will leave The Emirates Stadium with no points after poor game management allowed them to self-implode against Arsenal.
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Starting XI: Tom Heaton [GK], Frédéric Guilbert, Bjorn Engels, Tyrone Mings, Neil Taylor, Marvelous Nakamba, John McGinn, Jack Grealish (C), Trézéguet, Anwar El Ghazi, Wesley Moraes
Aston Villa lined up against Arsenal in a classic affair at The Emirates this afternoon. The sky was overcast, the ground was wet, and the scene was set for the first game against the Gunners since 2016 – both sides looking inherently different to the last time they met.
The home side found their way into the Aston Villa box within forty seconds after a long ball over to Aubameyang proved to be successful, but Tyrone Mings was aware and cleared the ball away. Just thirty seconds later, Ainsley Maitland-Niles skied a left-footed volley wide.
Trézéguet was at the forefront of Aston Villa’s first attack, getting away from Sead Kolasinac twice before cutting back to John McGinn who lacked the power in his shot – proving easy for Leno to collect.
John McGinn forced Leno into another save in the 11th minute as he found himself with acres of space before taking a shot towards the top left with his left foot. Leno was able to push it away.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles picked up the first booking of the game as Maitland-Niles caught the back of El Ghazi’s ankle as the winger tried to break. El Ghazi took the shot which was saved easily by the Arsenal ‘keeper.
Arsenal’s best chance of the game at this point, the fifteenth minute, came as Kolasinac’s header found Aubameyang who was pressured well by Mings – allowing Heaton to dive on the open ball.
Aston Villa took the lead in the 20th minute as Anwar El Ghazi cut onto his right and played a looping ball over the top, which missed Wesley’s head and landed in the past of John McGinn, who had already had two shots on target at this point, allowing the Scot to bury past Leno.
Bukayo Saka was having a lively game and nearly scored a wonder-goal in front of his home fans in the 26th, firing just over the bar as the Aston Villa defence backed off.
For much of the game up to this point, Arsenal were looking to catch Aston Villa’s defence by playing lofted balls over the top to their front men – and were having little luck doing so.
Granit Xhaka was booked in the 34th minute for pulling Jack Grealish’s arm back and the midfielder to the floor as Aston Villa’s captain looked to break.
Tyrone Mings headed an effort wide in the 36th, but was offside regardless and the play returned to Arsenal.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sent off for a late challenge on Neil Taylor which happened before the 40th minute, but the play did not resume until the 42nd as the challenge from the full-back had resulted in a ‘self-injury’ of sorts. Maitland-Niles limped off the field of play but was never to return to the pitch.
There was a bit of a melee between Wesley and Sokratis shortly after, with the Greek defender embarrassing himself a little as he looked to even the amount of players on the field.
The second half began with Arsenal substituting Calum Chambers on for Bakayo Saka to secure his defence a little better after the sending off.
Dean Smith’s side had the brighter start of the two, winning an early free-kick and having the first attack of the half.
Tyrone Mings took it upon himself to become a left-winger in the 51st minute as he paced into the opposition half and played a strong ball into the box which deflected out for an Aston Villa corner.
Bjorn Engels made his first major mistake of his Aston Villa career as he bundled Matteo Guendouzi to the ground in the box, awarding the home side with a penalty. The midfielder went to ground very easily – but Nicolas Pepe scored from the spot to even the scores.
Aston Villa equalised almost immediately – and unsurprisingly, it came from Arsenal’s willingness to play from the back. A long ball landed to Neil Taylor, who played it to Jack Grealish. The talismanic midfielder rushed forward into the box and played it into the path of Wesley who poked it home for his second of the season.
Jack Grealish looked to be the prime creator as he teed up Trezeguet on a strong counter-attack, but the Egyptian shot directly towards Leno.
Trezeguet was subbed off for his Egyptian compatriot Ahmed Elmohamady in the 68th minute after an impressive display back in the starting eleven following his ban.
Matteo Guendouzi fired a powerful strike from just outside of the box directly after, which was well saved by Tom Heaton and knocked out for a corner by the veteran goalkeeper. Shortly after, the aforementioned squared up to each other as the midfielder looked for another penalty.
Arsenal replaced Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka with Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock in the 70th. These subs saw a prolonged five minute period of pressure from Arsenal as the looked to grab an equaliser against a tiring Aston Villa side.
And grab an equaliser they did, a poor header from Tyrone Mings landed for Calum Chambers, who reacted quickly to poke the ball into the roof of the net.
An unwillingness to make substitutions left Aston Villa’s midfield puffing and allowed an Arsenal free-kick after a poor foul. Aubameyang stepped up for the free-kick and a deflection off Jack Grealish sent the ball past a static Tom Heaton.
The goal resulted in Conor Hourihane making his way onto the pitch in place of Marvelous Nakamba, and Anwar El Ghazi was replaced by Henri Lansbury.
Aston Villa had a shout for a penalty as a Conor Hourihane shot hit the arm of Sokratis in the 89th minute, but their calls were waved away by the referee.
The Villans went into added time looking for a way back into the game, but nothing came from it and they left The Emirates with nothing.