Aston Villa 1 – 0 Arsenal
Beaten all ends up during one London club’s visit to Villa Park, Aston Villa would have another one to face early on Saturday. Arsenal have had somewhat of a resurgence in recent times, though a nine-man defeat against Wolves put a sharp end to their good run of results. Villa’s three-nil win at the Emirates started a low point for the Gunners season. It surely wouldn’t be as easy as that day, this time around. The introduction of dynamic young talent such as Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka, has given Arsenal a real spark.
Fans were calling on Dean Smith to make some changes in midfield. Smith made one, with Marvellous Nakamba coming in for Douglas Luiz. This was one of two changes to the starting XI, Anwar El Ghazi lost his place after a dismal first 45 minutes against West Ham, Bertrand Traore took his place. Frenchman Morgan Sanson was still on the bench.
It didn’t take long for the Villans to get off to the perfect start. A lovely pass into midfield by Martinez was whipped into the box by John McGinn. A short pass from Cedric was intercepted by Bertrand Traore, who played the ball across the box to Ollie Watkins. Watkins shot deflected off Rob Holding and past Mat Ryan in the Gunners net.
Some sturdy defending was needed to break up Arsenal attacks as the away side dominated the ball. Villa weren’t without bite though, as Ross Barkley found Traore, who turned and tried to chip Mat Ryan. The chip was saved, but it looked as if it wasn’t going in anyway, perhaps a low drilled shot would have been more effective. The Villans went in one-nil up, but with Nakamba and Konsa on yellow cards, they would have to be a lot more careful when taking on the likes of Saka in the tackle.
Villa needed plenty of defensive grit to secure the three points. Martinez and the back four were at their best to throw themselves in front of crosses, make interceptions and stick a foot in when needed. While Arsenal passed the ball and passed the ball, Villa stayed in shaped, and prepared to break if they could.
For parts of the second half, Dean Smith’s men struggled to get any of the ball, and when they did, long passes wouldn’t stick. Then a series of presses resulted in some good chances, Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins forced diving saves from Ryan. The final chance for Villa came as substitute Jacob Ramsey danced away from his man, and curled the ball on goal. Ryan saved that as well, but it showed Villa could easily have added to their lead.
A fantastic response from Villa to a dreadful match against West Ham. Villa showed dogged defensive quality, while threatening on the break. On top of this, many would have laughed at you last season, if you’d said Villa would have 11 Premier League clean sheets at this stage of the season, after having only seven in the 2019/20 campaign.
Emiliano Martinez – 8.5
With Villa often on the back foot, Emi Martinez was called into action to catch crosses and make saves often. His speed to get across and grab the ball away from Saka in the first half, and Odegard in the second, highlight his sweeping abilities. The Argentinian flew across his goal and seemed to hang in the air as he parried Granit Xhaka’s impressive free-kick. Martinez showed that he’s the complete package against the club that sold him.
Matty Cash – 9
Arsenal’s play was concentrated down their left flank for large portions of the 90. This meant Matty Cash was hard at work for the majority of the match. It’s a good job he was on top form, as he came up against Nicolas Pepe, Willian, Emile Smith-Rowe and whoever else Arsenal threw at him. Cash made three interceptions, which allowed Villa to push out and hit the Gunners on the break. His speed was invaluable for keeping up with Arsenal’s pacy wingers.
Ezri Konsa – 8
There was an element of luck that Ezri Konsa stayed on the pitch. The 23-year-old fouled Bukayo Saka as he ran through on the goal. The decision could have gone either way, and on another day a referee could have given a red card. Thankfully for Villa, Konsa remained on the pitch, and didn’t do anything too rash for the remainder of the game. He was always in the right place at the right time to get the ball away, his 10 clearances led all Villa players.
Tyrone Mings – 9 MOTM
A mammoth display from Tyrone Mings. There was no element of risk in the Villa defensive leaders’s passing. When in doubt, Mings got the ball foreard, and a couple of the long passes tested the Arsenal defence. If Villa were in need of a big block, Mings was the man, his two blocked shots was joint first in the Villa team.
Matt Targett – 8.5
Another committed, gutsy and defensively solid performance from Matt Targett. Five tackles and four clearances prove that Targett had plenty to do. His tackles were at key moments too, as Smith-Rowe tried to streak away down the right, Targett dived in and stretched every sinew and fibre of his body to get an all important touch.
Marvelous Nakamba – 7.5
Defensively Marvelous Nakamba was a great presence, filling in and whipping the ball away from Arsenal players. Six tackles led all Villa players, and even when he had a yellow card, he didn’t pull out of challenges. Where the Zimbabwean wasn’t so good was in the passing department. Playing simple passes back and sideways, he was accurate and on the money. However, if he so much as looked forward with the ball at his feet, he lost all accuracy and composure. Thankfully this didn’t hurt the Villa cause.
John McGinn – 8
John McGinn’s forward passing has greatly improved in recent weeks. The Scotsman has been able to pick out a pass in behind very well, and he nearly started the game with a fantastic ball in behind. Though it didn’t directly lead to the winning goal, it helped cause the confusion that allowed Bertrand Traore to pounce.
While there was a lack of physicality from McGinn in midweek, he got more involved in this game. Thomas Partey was a formidable foe in the centre of the park, and until he went of injured McGinn and Nakamba couldn’t quite assert themselves. But McGinn got stuck in nonetheless, with two tackles, an interception, block and clearance to his name.
Bertrand Traore – 7
Bertrand Traore’s quick thinking and feet, got the Villans off to the perfect start. Said quick feet showed up once more, when he turned away from two Arsenal defenders to go one on one with Mat Ryan. A low finish would have been a better selection than the dink the Burkina Faso international tried, but it shows how high his confidence is. When Traore is confident, he is unpredictable and dangerous.
Ross Barkley – 6
This was much improved from Ross Barkley. In tight spaces, Barkley was able to use his skill to turn away from defenders when needed. It is clear that the Chelsea-loanee thrives when playing on the break, his athleticism allows his to power forward on the attack. While he played three key passes, the rest of the time his passing was just off, with only 69% of passes finding their target. He also could have done better on a couple of shooting opportunities.
Jack Grealish © – 8
A quieter afternoon for Jack Grealish, but when he did get the ball into his feet and ran at the Arsenal defence, he caused problems. Super Jack sat deeper in the first half, to try and negate the influence of Bukayo Saka. This succeeded and emphasised Jack’s commitment to the team’s cause. When Saka moved to left-back in the second half, Jack could have more freedom, and this showed with a handful of counters and chances created.
Ollie Watkins – 8
While Ollie Watkins early shot wasn’t the greatest strike, but that didn’t matter as Rob Holding deflected the ball past Ryan. Watkins was a little isolated at times, but Villa’s record signing battled and tried to hold up the ball, as well as sprinting back to defend when needed. He could have had at least one more goal too, as counter attacks with Jack Grealish opened up shooting chances.
Off the Bench
Trezeguet (65) – 7
When Villa needed to have all hands to the defensive pump, taking Traore off and throwing Trezeguet on was the right move. The energetic winger was up and down defending and pressing. Despite only touching the ball 14 times, he really contributed to Villa’s defensive efforts, which included diving in front of Martin Odegard to put the Norwegian off his shot.
Jacob Ramsey (77) – 6.5
Jacob Ramsey’s only contribution came as Jack Grealish intercepted a pass. The 19-year-old picked up the ball and showed intent as he curled a shot on goal. He didn’t make a single pass, but did show plenty of effort when pressing.
Dean Smith – 8
This was a great response to an unsatisfactory performance against West Ham. A team effort that secured a result against a team on the up. Dean Smith made the right tactical changes, and substitutions, to help secure the result. It also got Villa to an important milestone, the 35 point mark. Deano’s men now have as many points as they had last season, in 17 fewer games. If that doesn’t show progress then nothing does.
It’s Brighton up next, who have had an on and off season. A win against Liverpool put them in the unlikely group of teams that have beaten the reds, along with Villa and Burnley. Beating the Seagulls away would help to put a poor run of results firmly in the past.