Ollie Watkins’ second-minute goal proved the winner as Aston Villa’s 1-0 victory condemned Arsenal to a second league defeat in five days.
Watkins made the most of some lax defending between Cedric Soares and Gabriel, which allowed Bertrand Traore to steal in before teeing up his team-mate for a close-range finish with only 74 seconds on the clock.
Debutant Mat Ryan had by far the busier afternoon of the two goalkeepers, denying Traore before half-time and keeping out strong Watkins, John McGinn and Jack Grealish efforts after the break.
Nicolas Pepe shot wide when played through in that second period in one of Arsenal’s few clear-cut attacks and later pulled a smart save from Emiliano Martinez with a deflected strike. But the 10th-placed Gunners’ resurgence was dealt a further blow by the end scoreline, while Villa moved a point off sixth-placed Chelsea.
Aston Villa: Martinez (6), Cash (6), Konsa (6), Mings (8), Targett (7), Nakamba (6), Barkley (6), McGinn (7), Traore (7), Watkins (7), Grealish (7).
Subs: Trezeguet (6), Ramsey (6).
Arsenal: Ryan (7), Bellerin (5), Gabriel 95), Holding (6), Cedric (4), Partey (6), Xhaka (6), Pepe (6), Smith Rowe (6), Saka (6), Lacazette (5).
Subs: Aubameyang (6), Odegaard (6), Willian (5).
Man of the match: Ollie Watkins
Villa at their best to see off patchy Arsenal
Ryan could not have wished for a worse start to his debut than to pick the ball out of his own net with barely a minute on the clock, after Cedric’s weak pass to Gabriel instead found an alert Traore, whose excellent pass for Watkins was turned home via a deflection for the opening goal.
It took Arsenal 29 minutes to even consider replying in kind, when Granit Xhaka’s free-kick was palmed behind by Martinez in their first shot on target of the afternoon.
Instead of pushing for an equaliser, the Gunners lacked incision and Villa came by far the closest to scoring the game’s second goal, with Traore given space to turn in the area by Cedric before Ryan denied him with an excellent reaction stop.
Things got little better after half-time, with Arsenal again slow out of the blocks and denied a second by more impressive goalkeeping to deny long-range efforts from Watkins and McGinn. That was, at least, interspersed with a rare moment of Gunners quality in attack as Pepe took Xhaka’s pass on the turn and planted a shot wide from a good position.
Arteta’s introduction of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Odegaard from the bench did spark Arsenal into life, with Tyrone Mings twice at his best to block the former at close-range.
Arsenal’s need to press forward in the latter stages gave Villa even more room to attack, and both Watkins and Grealish came close to doubling the lead in the final 10 minutes.
But the one-goal advantage proved enough, with Villa looking a different side to the one soundly beaten by West Ham in midweek to move eighth, three points off the fifth-placed Hammers, who have played a game more.
Two defeats in five days means Arsenal could end the weekend as low as 13th, and as many as eight points off a European spot.
What the managers said…
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “I said to them at the start that we had gone away from being a good team on Wednesday, and the values we’d had to be a good team had been about the workrate, the team ethic and being good team-mates. We saw that in bundles today.
“We started with a really good intensity, that set us up really well. It had to be a good defensive performance at times, but their goalkeeper has made some really good saves as well.”
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta: “It was a really strong performance again today. We completely dominated the game, we dominated every department and we should have won the game.
“As you could see me I was really animated for a few decisions and one big decision, that I will not discuss here as well what happened.”
Man of the match – Ollie Watkins
Even owing more than a touch of fortune to his early opener, Watkins was exceptional in attack for Aston Villa, showing the best of his role as a modern striker by chasing down lost causes, moving into the flanks and providing a threat to Arsenal’s defence all game.
He only avoided adding to his tally thanks to the form of Ryan, registering three decent shots on target across the afternoon.
But his performance owed a lot to his willingness to put in a shift, taking on more ‘duels’ than any of his team-mates, completing more sprints and finishing second in their running stakes, behind only John McGinn.
- Aston Villa have completed a league double over Arsenal for the first time since the inaugural Premier League season in 1992-93 under Ron Atkinson.
- Arsenal have lost three consecutive league games against Aston Villa without scoring a goal for the first time since August 1920-March 1922.
- With 35 points from 21 games this season, Aston Villa have equalled their total from the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign. This is their best return after 21 matches in a top-flight season since 2009-10 (36 points), when they finished sixth.
- Arsenal lost 1-0 having conceded after just 1 minute and 14 seconds – it’s the earliest a side have conceded in a 1-0 defeat since Everton trailed after just 41 seconds against Southampton in November 2016.
- Arsenal have lost their 10th league match of the season in their 23rd game – it’s the earliest they’ve reached 10 defeats in a top-flight campaign since 1983-84 (17 matches).
- Having also kept a clean sheet against Arsenal in the reverse fixture, Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez is the third goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in his first two Premier League appearances against a club they’ve previously appeared for in the competition after Shaka Hislop vs Newcastle (1998-99) and Mark Schwarzer vs Middlesbrough (2008-09).
- Ollie Watkins became the first Aston Villa player to score in three consecutive Premier League matches at Villa Park since Darren Bent in November 2011.
- Mat Ryan conceded just 74 seconds into his first Premier League start for Arsenal, becoming just the fourth goalkeeper in the competition’s history to concede within the opening two minutes of their full Premier League debut for a club, after Gavin Ward (Bolton Wanderers), Ian Bennett (Sheffield United) and Daniele Padelli (Liverpool).
- Mat Ryan became become the first Australian to appear for Arsenal in a competitive game since John Kosmina against FK Crvena Zvezda in December 1978 in the UEFA Cup.
Aston Villa’s trip to Brighton, next Saturday, is live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7.45pm; kick-off at 8pm.
Arsenal are also on the box next weekend, with their home game against Leeds live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm; kick-off at 4.30pm.