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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Emirates Stadium

Grim afternoon for Arsenal as Villa hand crushing blow to Gunners' title ambitions

Arsenal (0) 0

Aston Villa (0) 2 Bailey 84, Watkins 87

A desperate afternoon at the Emirates saw Arsenal's title challenge dealt a potentially mortal blow that hands the initiative very firmly to Man City.

It was a game in which they appeared bereft of ideas and cowed by the weight of expectation. It was a game in which the visitors grew stronger by the minute as the Gunners felt a growing sense of dread.

This was always going to be a challenge, sandwiched between two Champions League quarter-final legs against Bayern Munch and the draining effects of that tie seems to have blown them off course at just the wrong moment.

Villa's disciplined and organised approach under the guiding hand of former Gunners boss Unai Emery saw them score twice late on to inflict only a second home loss of the season for the Gunners in the Premier League and a first home or away in the league since the start of the year.

The pre-match boost of Liverpool's unexpected capitulation at home to Crystal Palace ought to have offered Arsenal the canvas they needed to regain the initiative in the title race but they seldom looked like finding the net during an abject second half when first half promise gave way to a tired-looking dread of what was to come.

In the end, quickfire strikes from sub Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins in a counter attack settled the outcome and the ground had half emptied by the time the final whistle blew.

While The Allianz Arena may have been preying heavily on the mind this week for Mikel Arteta's men, Villa hardly seemed to be giving a moment's thought to their own European date this week against Lille. They looked up for the occasion and are now three points clear of Spurs in the race for the fourth Champions League slot.

The tension for Arsenal cranked up during a frenetic end to the first half. Watkins crashed a shot against the inside of a post with David Raya beaten and grateful to see the rebound across the face of goal bypass any Villa player on the follow up.

Then came two big moments at the other end that might have changed the narrative had they gone Arsenal's way. First, Emi Martinez did superbly with his quick feet to keep out a close range effort from Leandro Trossard - after a low cross to the near post from Gaby Jesus on the right - before Bukayo Saka curled a low shot just past the far post.

Home nerves were hardly improved after the break as a Villa visibly growing in confidence struck woodwork again - this time Youri Tielemans causing the heart palpitations with an angled shot that came down off the crossbar and down onto the inside of the far post.

It proved to be only a delay or what was becoming increasingly likely and when Lucas Digne fired in a cross from the left that was missed by a clutch of players at the bnear post, Bailey was on hand to turn the ball home at the far stick.

Soon after, Watkins scampered away from Emile Smith Rowe and kept his cool to clip the ball - with the aid of a deflection - inside the far post. The win for Villa was unquestionably deserved.

Arsenal have missed their cue and must now regroup for Bayern - and Wolves away next weekend. With six to play they have 71 points, as do Liverpool. City are now on 73.

Gunners: (4-3-3) Raya - White (Tomiyasu 67), Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko (Nketiah 88) - Odegaard (Smith Rowe 79), Rice, Havertz - Saka, Gabriel Jesus (Jorginho 79), Trossard (Martinelli 67)

Villa: (4-4-2) Martinez - Konsa, Diego Carlos, Pau Torres, Digne - Rogers, McGinn, Tielemans, Zaniolo (Moreno 80) - Diaby (Bailey 61), Watkins


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