Two stoppage-time goals helped Arsenal earn a thrilling 4-2 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday as Mikel Arteta’s side got back on track in the race for the Premier League title.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Villa striker Ollie Watkins opened the scoring with a powerful, low finish inside five minutes. Arsenal hit back shortly after through a bullet strike from winger Bukayo Saka, but Villa retook the lead later in the first-half with a superb team move finished off midfielder Philippe Coutinho.
Mikel Arteta’s side pushed for an equaliser and found one near the hour mark when Oleksandr Zinchenko fired a low strike into the bottom right corner from the edge of the area.
Arsenal faced suffering a fourth consecutive Premier League game without win but took the lead in stoppage time as January signing Jorginho‘s shot from the edge of the box struck the crossbar and hit goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez on the back of the head and found the net.
Gabriel Martinelli added a fourth almost immediately after when Martinez went up to Arsenal’s box to attack a last-minute corner, leaving the Arsenal striker to counter-attack and tap into an empty net.
The north London side began the day second after losing Wednesday’s crucial match to Manchester City, who face a trip to newly-promoted Nottingham Forest later on Saturday.
But Arsenal had the last laugh, quite literally, at Martinez. His name was sung gleefully by the travelling supporters as the Argentine, who had previously been critical of his treatment at Emirates Stadium prior to joining Villa in September 2020, inadvertently handed Arsenal a potentially vital win in the title race.
1. Arsenal leave it late but bounce back
Arsenal’s durability in the title race was called into question after a run of one point from a possible nine enabled Manchester City to knock them off the top of the table in midweek for the first time since Nov. 5. Kicking off just 63 hours after losing 3-1 to City, this was always going to be a test of Arsenal’s resolve and it became immeasurably harder after Watkins scored early on — the first goal Arsenal have conceded in the opening 15 minutes of a league match this season.
Their work without the ball was not up to scratch at times — Villa’s second goal was a flowing move from back to front, but there was little pressure on the ball at any stage. But they kept fighting and found a way to win, albeit benefitting from a slice of luck as Jorginho’s shot cannoned off the crossbar, onto the back of Martinez’s head the back of the net. This victory arrests that poor run and fires a statement to City that they still have genuine competition in the title race.
2. Saka epitomises Arsenal’s fight
This was another occasion to add to a growing list where Saka was on the receiving end of some rough treatment. Three days after Saka was fouled multiple times by Manchester City as they sought to stifle Arsenal’s attacking threat, Saka was again targeted at Villa Park, contributing to a flare up at the end of the first half when he shoved Coutinho in frustration.
He still ended the opening 45 minutes on the scoresheet, underlining why he has become such a focus for opponents: the 21-year-old has been directly involved in 17 goals in the Premier League this season (nine goals, eight assists), a record bettered only by Erling Haaland and Harry Kane. And despite going down for treatment early in the second half, Saka admirably battled on to keep taking the fight to Villa, playing the entire game when it looked probable at one stage he would be forced off.
Saka had suffered 40 fouls this season by the end of Saturday’s game, the eighth-highest figure in the Premier League. Arteta previously hinted at the England winger requiring better protection while also stating the onus is also on his team to give Saka the ball in a way that reduces the risk of opponents diving in. Regardless, Saka remained the driving force of this Arsenal team and deserved to end up on the winning side.
3. A day to forget for Martinez
Martinez has repeatedly questioned his treatment at Arsenal, believing the club “didn’t trust me like they should have” in his attempts to become their number one goalkeeper. Martinez went on to prove his point in an Argentina side that won the World Cup in Qatar, but his view of Arsenal created an animosity which led the travelling supporters here to chant an unfavourable comparison to Aaron Ramsdale.
And that was before the dramatic denouement. The Arsenal fans sang Martinez’s name with gusto at the climax of this game as first he scored an unfortunate own goal and was then caught upfield as Martinelli rolled in a fourth.
He has a battle to prove fully compatible with Unai Emery’s desire to play out from the back. Villa’s second goal here showcased that strategy at its best. It was a goal which began with Martinez rolling out the ball to his centre-backs, Jacob Ramsey moving through midfield as Villa built down the left with Alexandre Morena Lopera crossing for Coutinho to slot home his first goal of the season. Yet the nervousness in the stands was palpable as Villa persisted with the tactic, with Martinez kicking the ball straight out of play on more than one occasion as he tried in vain to find a teammate. This was a day to forget for the 30-year-old.
Best and worst performers
Bukayo Saka: Kept going tirelessly and did as much as anyone to force Arsenal’s comeback.
Ollie Watkins: Was a constant threat for Villa and took his early goal brilliantly.
Jorginho: Struggled when Villa counter-attacked, but the Italy international was intelligent in possession and ensured Arsenal kept probing.
Emiliano Martinez: A nightmare afternoon against his former club, and much of the frustration at Villa’s struggles playing out from the back were aimed at him.
William Saliba: After struggling against Ivan Toney and Haaland, Saliba’s poor run of form continued as he failed to cope with Watkins.
Eddie Nketiah: Wasteful in front of goal again and was fortunate it did not cost Arsenal.
Highlights and notable moments
The match delivered a Hollywood ending, but there was a bit of Tinseltown at Villa Park even before kick-off as acting legend and Villa fan Tom Hanks was in attendance.
It’s a pleasure to have you with us at Villa Park, @TomHanks! 🤝 #AVLARS pic.twitter.com/fKiqU5swcI
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) February 18, 2023
Whatever he said to the home team in the locker room clearly worked because Hanks had barely taken his seat before Watkins opened the scoring.
Tom Hanks watching Aston Villa take the lead against Arsenal 👀 pic.twitter.com/wFToLdEJ2S
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 18, 2023
But it was Arsenal who were the stars of the show as they ended up claiming a stunning late victory. It was a game that featured some stunning goals, but the most memorable will surely prove to be Martinez’s own goal if Arsenal go on to win the title.
THE GUNNERS ARE AHEAD IN STOPPAGE TIME!
It's an own goal by Emi Martinez as the ball ricochets off the crossbar onto Martinez's back and into the net.
📺: @USANetwork #MyPLMorning | #AVLARS pic.twitter.com/kkQWLHwkEr
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 18, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Arteta on Arsenal’s comeback: “We showed a lot of character, resilience to get back twice in the game and then winning it. We have to take some lessons today because especially in the first half, we didn’t do all the simple things right and then we give them the chance to score those two goals in a really simple way. We talked at half time, if we raise the individual standards and start to do what we have to do, we’re going to win this game. And they went out there, which is difficult, and won it.”
Zinchenko on the team’s reaction to going behind twice: “I think from this game, I would like to say two things. First, we took an unbelievable lesson all of us that we need to believe until the very end and we can achieve everything. Like I said many times in the past, this group is such an amazing people and can achieve everything that they want if they continue in this way, keep fighting and believing. Also, the reaction from all of us in the second half was perfect, that’s the right way to go for the future games.”
Jorginho on whether he had contributed to a goal like Arsenal’s third before: “The last time I hit the post and it hit the keeper, it didn’t go in. I’m glad today it did.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Saka’s is joint-eighth in the Premier League for fouls suffered this season with 40. Wilfried Zaha is the player with the most fouls against him in the division this season, with 57.
Zinchenko’s goal to level the match at 2-2 was his first ever in the Premier League. The Ukraine international played 76 times for Manchester City, winning four Premier League titles, without ever once netting for them in the competition. His last league goal was scored for FC Ufa in 2015, in a 1-1 draw at Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Aston Villa: Unai Emery’s men travel to play Everton in seven days’ time before hosting Crystal Palace on Saturday, March 4.
Arsenal: The Gunners have a trip to Leicester City next Saturday. After that, they have a quick chance for revenge with the visit to the Emirates of Everton, whose defeat of Arsenal at the start of February kicked off their poor run of form, on Wednesday, March 1.
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