|Arsenal's Pierre Emerick Aubameyang celebrates with Alexander Lacazette after the Gabonese doubled Arsenal's lead on Friday. Arsenal beat Villa 3-1. (Photo credit: Premierleague.com)|
There are certain games you head into with personal grudges, scores to settle and the grand prize typically goes beyond the traditional three points, such was Arsenal’s against Aston Villa at the Emirates on Friday night.
Arsenal had gone three straight games without registering a point against Aston Villa, in fact they couldn’t score a single goal in that time, and Emiliano Martinez spiced the “rivalry” if you wish to call it that with unnecessary interviews, it was a grudge match.
Arsenal rested Martin Odegaard and Kieran Tierney wasn’t in the match day squad, Villa had the joy of bringing back Leon Bailley but he was only good for the bench, Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings started together again, with Emi Buendia behind them, a player the Gunners wanted earlier in the window.
Arsenal started brightly as always and even got Watkins in the book when he threw Gabriel to the turf as early as first minute then with Thomas Partey pulling strings in midfield, Albert Sambi Lokonga on his 22nd birthday helped him roam, a double pivot was needed to nullify Dean Smith’s packed midfield.
Partey thought he had given the Gunners the lead when a fortunate loose ball fell to him in the box but his effort clipped the crossbar and whistled agonizingly wide of mark but he wouldn’t have to wait any longer for his first Arsenal goal.
Arsenal could have gone into the lead as early as the third minute, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s overhead volley flew across the face of goal but Bukayo Saka sent the rebound well wide of mark with the goal gapping.
The deadlock was eventually broken on the 23rd minute; Emile Smith Rowe’s corner kick was headed home by Partey with the Villa defenders ball watching, it was the Ghanaian’s first goal in Arsenal colors, coming in his 40th game.
Unlike how they managed in the game against Crystal Palace, Arsenal went on the offensive and hardly conceded possession in key areas, the reaction was good and Villa didn’t offer much going forward nor create anything Arsenal needed to be afraid of.
The first half flew by but not without a crazy end, referee Craig Pawson was called to action at the tail end when Alexander Lazazette was fouled in the area, VAR intervened and Arsenal were awarded a penalty at the death.
Villa protested, as Pawson didn’t call the game back until well over a minute. Aubameyang saw his penalty kick saved by Martinez on a good height but the Arsenal man scored from the rebound, again Villa players thought the goal should be disallowed as the half probably ended before the penalty was awarded.
The second half started brightly for Arsenal again, Thomas Partey found Aubameyang and the Arsenal captain flicked to Smith Rowe in space, the youngster raced home and fired past Martinez for Arsenal’s third albeit off Tyron Mings.
At that point it was done and dusted as Arsenal looked the likelier to score still; Dean Smith removed the highly ineffective Buendia and brought on Bailley for his first appearance in a month, he was impressive on the right straight up and added dynamism to the Villa game.
Villa did pull one back when substitute Jacob Ramsey fired excellently past Aaron Ramsdale on the Arsenal goal from a Bailley layoff, it was a needed tonic for a Villa fight back but Arsenal stood firm and resolute.
Arsenal held on for three points, taking them straight into 9th pending other games, you wonder if they will continue playing like they did on the night or revert to another frustrating showing. Time will tell.