MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 2 – 1 Aston Villa

Arsenal (1) 2 Aston Villa (0) 1

Premier League

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Wednesday, 31st August 2022. Kick-off time: 7.30pm

(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Granit Xhaka, Albert Sambi Lokonga; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard (c), Gabriel Martinelli; Gabriel Jesus.

Substitutes: Emile Smith-Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Fabio Vieira, (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Matt Turner, Matt Smith.

Scorers: Gabriel Jesus (30 mins), Gabriel Martinelli (77 mins)

Yellow Cards: William Saliba

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 60%

Referee: Rob Jones

Assistant Referees: Lee Betts, Ian Hussin

Fourth Official: Craig Pawson

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR James Mainwaring

Attendance: 60,012

Although the record books clearly state that we have won eight of our last eleven Premier League matches against tonight’s opponents, past glories count for nothing in this pressure cooker of a league. However, we can expect a good match, jam-packed with incidents and accidents, along with a well-organised opposition, which reflects the personality of their much decorated manager, Steven Gerrard, formerly of Liverpool (as a player) and Glasgow Rangers (as a manager). Should be an interesting ninety minutes tonight!

The Villains kicked off proceedings, and although both teams looked a tad nervous in the opening stages, it was Arsenal who got themselves together to work out a way to break through the visitors’ defence. We were exploiting their defensive frailties in the wide areas of the pitch, mainly because their 4-3-3 system is far too narrow to cause us any real issues (so far). We had a penalty shout denied by Rob Jones when Tyrone Mings hurled Bakayo Saka to the ground after seven minutes, only to be followed by Ben White, who clashed with John McGinn. A little while later, Gabriel Jesus was desperately unlucky not to score, when he had three chances in as many minutes to place the ball in the back of the net, but sadly his efforts were denied by a panicky Villa defence. Jacob Ramsey became the first player tonight to end up receiving a yellow card, when his poor tackle poleaxed Gabriel Martinelli, who was unlucky not to escape with a serious injury. Absolute pandemonium happened in the visitor’s six-yard box, when two excellent Martin Ødegaard efforts was somehow cleared by the Villa defence, and with a quarter of the match gone, Arsenal were by far the dominant side. And still the chances keep coming; Gabriel Martinelli ran to the by-line and crossed the ball for Bukayo Saka to run in on and score, but his first touch sent the ball over the bar and into the crowd, denying himself a perfect opportunity to open the scoring in front of an open goal. On the half hour, we took the lead when Granit Xhaka’s shot took a slight deflection at the near post and Villa goalie Emiliano Martinez fumbled the ball, caught by the small change in direction, and Gabriel Jesus’ left-footed shot from the left side of the six-yard box ended up in the back of the net; a real poacher’s goal. We certainly didn’t rest on out laurels, as our strikers endlessly went on the hunt for more goals, and as we were doing so, the visitors merely capitulated and found it increasingly difficult to hold our players back. Just before the break, our players were simply lining up to shoot, and how the ball didn’t end up in the back of the Villa net, nobody knows, but in the two minutes injury time, our resolve to score never wavered at all, and when Gabriel Martinelli hit a twenty-five yard shot on the volley, we all thought that our second goal had been scored, but we went into half-time a goal ahead. It should have been more!

A much anticipated second half kicked off in style with us oozing confidence, with the boys stroking the ball around with style and panache. William Saliba was booked for a silly tackle, and although it was looking like Villa were waking up, our defenders were not threatened very much at all. Nine minutes after the restart, a Martin Ødegaard left-footed free-kick brought out an acrobatic save from Emiliano Martinez, who was involved in a bizarre head-locking incident with Gabriel Jesus in which the Villa goalkeeper should have been booked (at least), but somehow got away with it, so to speak. We were not allowing the visitors to get into the match at all, and although they have been marginally better in the second half, their threat level was almost non-existent. Ben White was substituted for Takehiro Tomiyasu after sixty-three minutes to reinvigorate the defence, and a few minutes later, John McGinn received a yellow card for a terrible tackle on our captain, which saw him go to ground in a heart-stopping few minutes. In the wake of the free-kick, Gabriel Martinelli’s right-footed shot from outside the box was blocked, and the visitors broke out with the resulting shot being tipped over the bar by Aaron Ramsdale, fortunately. Out of nowhere, a corner by the visitors saw Douglas Luiz level the scores controversially, as it was felt that he impeded Aaron Ramsdale; referee Rob Jones consulted the pitchside monitor on the advice of VAR, and it was unbelievably given. Not to worry, though, as a minute later, we retook the lead when Bukayo Saka crossed the ball over to Gabriel Martinelli, whose left-footed shot from the left side of the six-yard box went past Emiliano Martinez, who palmed it into the high centre of the goal. Incredible comeback! Emile Smith-Rowe replaced an injured Martin Ødegaard with ten minutes of the game remaining, and then Aaron Ramsdale went to ground holding his leg, which was not a good sign. Thankfully, he got up and carried on, and as Steven Gerrard started to put more and more substitutes on, it was looking like the last few minutes of the match would be a bit frenetic. With four minutes of the game remaining, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus was replaced by Rob Holding and Eddie Nketiah, to bring some fresh legs into the proceedings. The game started to be an end-to-end affair now, with the feeling in the stadium that anything could happen at any time. The announcer told everyone (to a universal groan) that there would be five minutes’ injury time to be played; both teams showed urgency in trying to score, none more than Eddie Nketiah, who ran sixty yards, and was unlucky not to score as his shot went narrowly over the bar, but it made no difference, as just seconds later, Rob Jones blew the whistle and we collected another three points.

Five wins in five matches, for the first time since 1997, what a great start for the boys! Mind you, they have to learn to be more ruthless and finish teams off and neutralise their opponents quickly; tonight we showed character and fortitude in despatching the Villains, but we may not be so lucky against other teams. Still, every man tonight played their part, from defence to attack, and it’s good to see the chaps playing for each other, and it’s also great to see an Arsenal team playing with belief again. Sunday’s match at Old Trafford will be an interesting one, and if they show the same attitude there as they did tonight, then we have nothing to fear at all. Well done lads!

Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, 4th September at 4.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Steve

Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon

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