A shocking 45 minutes of football condemned Aston Villa to a loss against Arsenal, despite Dean Smith’s side looking better in the second half.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Aston Villa travelled to The Emirates this evening, for a Friday night affair under the lights against Arsenal. Dean Smith’s side were hoping to make amends for their capitulation against Wolves last weekend.
Ollie Watkins was booked for Aston Villa within the first 30 seconds, as he lashed out and threw Gabriel to the floor after the defender blocked his path to the ball.
The opening five minutes were very much all Arsenal, with Aston Villa struggling to handle the relentless early press from the home side. Aubameyang, Saka and Tavares all had opportunities to give Arteta’s men the lead, but the scoreline remained level.
Chances did dry up as the game progressed towards the 20th minute, with both sides looking incredibly frantic in possession – but Arsenal looking the more confident of the two.
In the 20th minute, Thomas Partey struck the bar with a poked effort towards goal at the end of a free-kick, before the ball was cleared away. The midfielder made no mistake two minutes later, beating a ducking John McGinn to the end of a corner, which was headed beyond Martinez.
Tyrone Mings was booked for a late challenge on Alexandre Lacazette in the 27th minute.
Arsenal looked guaranteed a second goal on the half-hour mark as Nuno Tavares swept a ball across the box to Saka, who was in acres of space. Martinez was able to scramble across the goal and save well with his feet to deny the home side their second.
John McGinn was booked for a late challenge on Lokonga in the 32nd. Lokonga himself was booked on the edge of the end of the first half as he pulled McGinn back via his shirt.
As the game headed towards the end of the half, Arsenal were awarded a penalty after a lengthy VAR check and the referee checking the screen. It was adjudged that Targett had fouled Lacazette. Aubameyang stepped up and had his penalty saved before the striker finished the rebound as Martinez got a weak hand to the second shot.
Dean Smith opted to make a change at the start of the second half, after perhaps the worst display of football from an Aston Villa side in a long time. Leon Bailey replaced Axel Tuanzebe as the Jamaican winger returned from injury.
The change in system bore fruit immediately, with Aston Villa’s first test of Aaron Ramsdale coming in the 46th minute. Ollie Watkins fired towards goal and forced the ball out for a corner.
The opening five minutes of the first half were a vast improvement for Villa. More energy, better shape, and actual touches in the opposition box.
In the 55th minute, however, Arsenal broke on the counter-attack again. Emile Smith-Rowe broke away and was closed down by Mings, before the midfielder struck a shot towards goal. The ball deflected off Mings’ leg and snuck in between the post and Martinez’ dive.
Matt Targett was booked for a late challenge on Bukayo Saka in the 60th minute.
Both sides made a change in the 67th minute, with Odegaard replacing Lacazette, while Ramsey replaced Buendia for Aston Villa.
Martinez produced a fine save to deny Aubameyang a second goal in the 72nd minute, flying across his goal to parry away a shot that was heading for the top right. Arsenal made their second change shortly after, replacing Lokonga with Maitland-Niles.
The 76th minute saw Danny Ings replaced by Anwar El Ghazi for Aston Villa.
In the 81st minute, Aston Villa pulled one back – almost offering themselves a lifeline. Bailey worked his way to a central position, riding a number of challenges, before Jacob Ramsey stepped onto the ball and sidefooted it into the top right corner for his first Aston Villa goal.
Ollie Watkins almost scored immediately after, but couldn’t quite make contact with the ball in a central position with only Ramsdale to beat. Douglas Luiz was booked for dissent shortly after that.
A poor display in the first half. Second half a little better. Disappointing.