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  • Julian Taylor at Villa Park

Gunners drive home renewed title message as they stun Villa in late show



Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 4


Julian Taylor at Villa Park


Fortune - and not a little bit of drama - favours Arsenal as title questions hang tantalisingly in the air.


The diligent Gunners inched their way back to the top of the Premier League, thanks to surreal injury time strikes of good fortune by Jorginho and Gabriel Martinelli – just when it looked like they had to settle for a hardened draw in an exciting clash at Villa Park.

The chance was taken, albeit briefly, with Manchester City playing Nottingham Forest later in the afternoon.


What a vital note to critics of a team going wayward in recent weeks. Playing through their troubles and sticking to principles, the Gunners’ spirit remains intact. Crucial opportunities were missed – until Jorginho fired home via the assistance of luckless Villa keeper Emi Martinez and a runaway effort, coasted home by substitute Martinelli.

Unai Emery was, therefore, denied what would have been a fine win for Villa and three points within their current mid-table status. The Aston Villa manager, or his players, solid and driven, can have no real complaints.

By the high standards of Arsenal’s ascension this season, their dislodging from the top of the table by City felt like a deeper cut: a genuine psychological blow as opposed to a mere loss of three points. A second half littered with mistakes and eventual acceptance of their fate at the Emirates will have weighed heavily on Arteta’s mind, before this trip to the midlands.


And yet, the manager had even more to concentrate upon, when his men got off to the worst possible start against the vibrant Villans - Watkins the executioner with a left footed drive. Only five minutes gone, and Arsenal resumed their lackadaisical appearance from midweek.

The Villa striker fastened on to a cross-field pass from the industrious Matty Cash before deftly weaving past Gabriel to fire into the right hand corner of the net.


Arteta, though, saw a quick reaction, events unfurling spectacularly.


Ferocity

Bukayo Saka, in particular, seemed piqued – and Arsenal waited just ten minutes to level, with the England international lashing a left foot drive into the roof of the Holte End net, after Mings headed a White cross straight into his path. Not even World champion keeper, Martinez, had a chance to react, such was the ferocity; quite the metaphor for a team – without a win in their last four games - determined to answer examinations of their character and longevity.


While Arsenal did indeed revive, it was rather surprising to see Villa make their inferior possession statistics work in their favour: when they advanced, they made capital as the contest properly ebbed and flowed.


Philippe Coutinho made sure of that, when, in the 31st minute, he fired the second after the hosts had weathered what Arsenal had hitherto offered. Andre Lopera’s low pass from the left found the Brazilian in an inviting space inside the penalty area - and with Gabriel failing to get close enough, the shot was comprehensively swept past Gunners’ keeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Tempers boiled over when Mings arrived to late to impede Martin Odegaard. Arteta will at least have been impressed with his side’s togetherness amid losing in the heat of combat when the north Londoners didn’t deserve to be a goal down at half time.


Arsenal re-emerged with intent: the control and rhythm were there, but the coolness in front of goal, not so much, with Trossard still a marginal figure against an aggressive Villa. Eddie Nketiah, on the other hand, criticised for profligacy against City, was unlucky to see his header hit the bar in the 55th minute, but should have done better later on when he lacked the composure to finish in front of goal.

The discipline and counter attacking policy of Emery’s side was impressive, Ezri Konza in the thick of matters, wrestling with any perceived Arsenal threat.


Tilt


But the leveller was coming – and the crispness of Oleksandr Zinchenko’s textbook strike brought respite for Arteta. The Ukrainian rifled the ball into the corner from 20 yards, following a corner, signalling a genuine tilt in collective Arsenal confidence.


Despite their graft, with substitute Leon Bailey a live wire, Villa struggled with Arsenal’s energy levels as the game surged on in front of 42,066 fans.

The theme of missed chances of late, haunted the Londoners once again, with Odegaard inexplicably side-footing wide when teed up perfectly by Saka. Villa raider Leon Bailey then saw Ramsdale fingertip his shot against the bar with eight minutes to go, before events exploded in added time.

Then it all kicked off.


With time running out, Jorginho cannoned a 20 yard drive off both the bar and the back of Martinez into the net. Then, Martinelli, who gave Arsenal real impetus, idled the ball into the empty Villa net, when the hosts risked everything going forward for a corner.

If champions City do possess a certain know-how and ascendancy in these tight circumstances, this battle for supremacy is still very much on.


Gunners: Ramsdale, White (Tomiyasu 79), Gabriel, Saka, Odegaard (Holding 90-4), Saliba, Nketiah, Trossard (Martinelli 67), Jorginho, Xhaka (Vieria 79), Zinchenko (Tierney 90+4)


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