✳ Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 4
London, UK | THE INDEPENDENT | Two goals in injury-time gave Arsenal a superb comeback victory in an all-action encounter at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon.
Ollie Watkins had put the hosts ahead early on before Bukayo Saka pulled Arsenal level with a screamer.
Philippe Coutinho restored Aston Villa’s lead before the break, but Arsenal came roaring back after half-time.
Alex Zinchenko drew Arsenal level with his first Arsenal goal – but it looked as though the Gunners would have to settle for single point before the late, late drama.
An own goal from former Gunner Emi Martinez – when Jorginho’s shot hit the bar and bounced in off the keeper’s head – put Arsenal ahead and Gabriel Martinelli sealed the win late on, walking the ball in after Martinez had gone forward for a late Villa corner.
It was the perfect tonic after one point from our last three games, and put Arsenal back on top of the table.
Arsenal got off to the worst possible start. With just six minutes on the clock, they lost the ball in midfield and Villa sprung a counter-attack.
However there didn’t seem to be too much danger as Watkins advanced into the box, marshalled by William Saliba. But the in-form striker rifled the ball home with a left-footed shot which flew beyond Aaron Ramsdale.
Arsenal responded well, pushing forward and putting pressure on the Villa penalty area.
Ben White clipped a ball over Martinez and into the path of Eddie Nketiah, but Tyrone Mings cleared from under the bar as Arsenal’s striker dived in. White was subsequently flagged just offside.
A wonderful finish from Saka brought Arsenal level. White’s cross from the right was only half cleared, and Saka smashed the bouncing ball into the roof of the net from 15 yards. Martinez was rooted to the spot as the ball flashed past him.
It was the winger’s 10th goal of an excellent season so far.
The game remained open, with both defences offering chances, but it was Villa retook the lead with a well-worked second. Again though they were given too much time on the ball. Alex Moreno got behind White, and his cut-back from the left was dummied by Emiliano Buendia, allowing Coutinho to wrong-foot Ramsdale with a low finish.
Arsenal struggled to regain the flow after falling behind again. Saka looked dangerous whenever he picked up possession on the right wing but Arsenal were unable to really test Martinez.
Zinchenko breaks his duck
Arsenal looked to dictate the play at the start of the second half. Granit Xhaka had a shot blocked on the edge of the area before Saka then dragged a low shot wide.
Nketiah headed against the bar after leaping well to meet White’s cross but soon Arsenal persistence paid off.
From a short corner, Martin Odegaard rolled the ball back to Zinchenko just outside the box. The Ukrainian lined up his first time shot and squeezed it inside the post.
It was the left back’s first goal for Arsenal – indeed his first ever in the Premier League – but there was no time to celebrate. Instead he wanted to get on with things and go for the third goal.
Nketiah came close to getting it. He latched onto a searching Odegaard pass through the middle, rounded the defender but lifted the ball over the bar.
Martinelli was introduced into the action as Arsenal went for the kill. He made a great run into the area from the halfway line, but his pass was just too strong for Nketiah, who had momentarily checked his run.
Chances were beginning to come and go for both sides. John McGinn shot straight at Ramsdale as Villa served a warning that they were still a threat going forward.
Odegaard, who had really come to the fore in the second half, then had a huge chance to put Arsenal ahead.
Nketia won the ball in the box and rolled it perfectly onto the skipper’s left foot, near the penalty spot. But his low shot went just the wrong side of the upright.
The game was being played at a frantic pace, and Leon Bailey smashed a fierce shot against the bar from a narrow angle. Replays showed Ramsdale made a superb save to push it onto the woodwork.
Then the late drama. Jorginho’s shot from 20 yards rattled the frame of the goal, bounced down, and in off the back of Martinez’s head. Cue delirium in the away end.
The win was sealed at the death. Martinez went forward as Villa won a late corner. But Arsenal cleared to Fabio Vieira who released Martinelli to walk it home.
A deserved and dramatic late turnaround to put Arsenal three points clear at the top.