Arsenal tested fans’ heartrates with a dramatic late show to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Goals from Nicolas Pepe, Calum Chambers and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang proved just about enough for the Gunners on home soil, after first half ineptitude nearly cost us yet another victory.
Instead, we can look back on a first victory in four, and at least latch onto our character that was showed in extreme adversity, especially with Ainsley Maitland-Niles being sent off in the first half for a sliding challenge.
Unai Emery opted to reward Bukayo Saka for his display against Frankfurt on Thursday, as the teenager kept his place in the side for a first Premier League start. It meant no room for Mesut Ozil in the side, nor Reiss Nelson.
Emery also maintained our central defensive pairing of David Luiz and Sokratis, despite some awful performances of late, the return of Rob Holding and the form of Calum Chambers.
There was also no place for Lucas Torreira in the side, the Uruguayan having to be happy with a place on the bench, as Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka made up the central midfield. Our creativity would be coming from loanee Dani Ceballos, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang intent on keeping up his scoring record this season.
That he did, but more on that later.
A characteristic from Emery’s first season was our terrible first half showings, and it was again the case here. Aston Villa probably couldn’t believe their luck, as they bested us with the amount of shots they had in the first forty five and deservedly went into the break a goal up.
A ball was swung in and our defence was stationary as John McGinn ghosted in and hit a first time finish past Leno.
We were lucky to just be a goal down, and when Maitland-Niles got his marching orders, it looked a tall task to come back from.
The second half was marginally better at the start, and Matteo Guendouzi’s burst into the box was illegally ended by Bjorn Engels. Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot, and Nicolas Pepe stepped up to calmly slot down the middle to grab his first goal for the club.
Mere minutes later though, we had switched off again, leaving Wesley the simple task to poke in. Our defending was diabolical, and Villa, if they had maintained their attacking approach, could have got more.
Two things changed the game.
Firstly, Unai Emery swapped out the ineffectual Granit Xhaka for Lucas Torreira, and secondly, Dean Smith ordered his men to sit back and preserve.
We had been bossing possession, and now that Villa were camped in their own third, it was the ticket we needed to go and get something from the game.
Up until Chambers smashed the equaliser, it looked like Smith’s order was the right one, but his close range finish was the result of some extreme pressure.
Three minutes later, we earned a free kick about twenty five yards out, that Aubameyang stepped up to dart a straight shot into the corner that Tom Heaton didn’t expect.
We held on for the points, but there are several lessons we must learn if we are to progress.
It’s no coincidence that the game changed when the Uruguayan came on. He changes the dynamic, chases possession and keeps things a little tighter than Xhaka. We need him in the side, otherwise we are far too open centrally.
Change out one of Sokratis or Luiz – or both
Sokratis is generally solid but is woefully out of form. Luiz has cost us more than once. Chambers has performed every time he plays and rescued us in this game. It is abundantly clear our defence isn’t working right now, so change something!
Stop Being Our Own Worst Enemy!
If it weren’t for us shooting ourselves in the foot, we would have grabbed the win at Watford and beaten spurs. Instead, our own misgivings are costing us. Letting the likes of Watford and Aston Villa dictate the lion’s share of play? That shows we are not at the races. Whether it be tactically or player blame – check those videos at training and get it sorted.
Next up is the League Cup tie versus Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, followed by our tie against Man United on 30 Sept.