Aston Villa (2) 2 Arsenal (1) 4
Villa Park, Trinity Road, Birmingham B6 6HE
Saturday, 18th February 2023. Kick-off time: 12.30pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Martin Ødegaard (c), (Jorge Luiz Frello Filho) Jorginho, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Leandro Trossard.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith-Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Jakob Kiwior, Rob Holding, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Fabio Vieira, Reiss Nelson, Matt Turner.
Scorers: Bukayo Saka (16 mins), Oleksandr Zinchenko (61 mins), Emiliano Martinez (o.g. 90 +3 mins), Gabriel Martinelli (90 +5 mins)
Yellow Cards: Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 67%
Referee: Simon Hooper
Assistant Referees: James Mainwaring, Mark Scholes
Fourth Official: John Brooks
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Stuart Attwell; AVAR Scott Ledger
After the defeat against Manchester City last Wednesday, we desperately need to get back to winning ways. We have made two changes from the last match, namely Leandro Trossard and Jorginho, who are both more than capable of changing the outcome of a game in a heartbeat. We’ll see. Black armbands are being worn today by both teams in memory of the former Newcastle United player Christian Atsu, who tragically lost his life in the Turkish earthquake disaster.
Arsenal got today’s proceedings underway, kicking towards the Holte End rather sluggishly, it has to be said. The home side were by far the more assertive in the early stages of the game; the first shot of the day came from Douglas Luiz as he hit the ball from about forty yards which went flying into the Arsenal supporters behind Aaron Ramsdale’s goal. Unfortunately we went one down after five minutes, when Oli Watkins moved outside of William Saliba and hit a low left-footed shot past Aaron Ramsdale into the bottom corner of the net, which was a very troubling start for us, as Aston Villa have been putting us under a lot of pressure in the early stages of the match. However, just a few minutes later, Tyrone Mings hooked the ball onto the crossbar right in front of Eddie Nketiah as he dived in to meet Ben White’s cross, but the linesman’s flag went up for offside against Ben White, so even if we scored, it would not have counted anyway. This event certainly woke us up, and on the sixteenth minute, we grabbed the equaliser when Ben White chipped the ball into the penalty area for Tyrone Mings to head the ball straight to the feet of Bukayo Saka, who drove a fantastic strike past the hapless Emiliano Martinez and into the top corner of the Aston Villa net. Superb goal. It was then our turn to apply pressure on the home side, when Oleksandr Zinchenko tried his luck from a distance, but it ended up into the arms of the Villa goalkeeper, after some excellent build-up play. We are now controlling the play with the home side mainly pinned down in their own half. Granit Xhaka received a warning from referee Simon Hooper over a seemingly innocuous tackle on Oli Watkins, and just after the half-hour mark, the home side took the lead again when Philippe Coutinho slotted a low shot past the outstretched arm of Aaron Ramsdale, which was very disappointing to say the least. Emiliano Martinez had to kick the ball behind for a corner as Bukayo Saka put pressure on Alex Moreno, and as the match continues, it is becoming obvious that we are concentrating our attacks down the right hand side with some interesting clashes happening between Bukayo Saka and Alex Moreno which are becoming more and more apparent as the game advances. In the two minutes injury time, Tyrone Mings caught Martin Ødegaard with his studs on the follow through, which led to a minor fracas between both sets of players that somehow saw Bukayo Saka receiving a yellow card for his trouble. The first half finished with us being on the wrong side of the scoring, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the second half, which will be an extremely important forty-five minutes for us.
Aston Villa started the business of the second half off, and we started to find one or two gaps in the home side’s defence, with Bukayo Saka continuing to cause confusion and problems down their right-hand side, A few minutes after the restart, Granit Xhaka played in Martin Ødegaard, who cleverly stayed onside before squaring the ball to Bukayo Saka, who took a quick shot that went wide of the Villa goal. A limping Bukayo Saka crossed the ball which was cleared straight to Martin Ødegaard, who played the ball back to Granit Xhaka but his shot was blocked by a Villa defender. Ben White got in behind the Villa defence and chipped a great ball into the middle of the penalty area for Eddie Nketiah, whose header annoyingly bounced off the top of the crossbar. Just after the hour, Oleksandr Zinchenko scored his first goal for Arsenal when he picked up a ball on the edge of the penalty area, and hit a low, left-footed shot past Emiliano Martinez and into the back of the net for our equalising goal. We should have grabbed our third goal of the afternoon when Martin Ødegaard played a superb pass to send Eddie Nketiah away. He was bearing down on the Villa goal, but Tyrone Mings pushed him wide before his chip over the advancing Emiliano Martinez went way over the crossbar. Gabriel Martinelli replaced Leandro Trossard a couple of minutes later, and his input into the match was noticed immediately with more assertiveness up front. However, we are pushing up in search of the third goal but we were almost caught on the counter attack as Oli Watkins was sent away down the left wing. He tried to pick out John McGinn on the other side of the penalty area, but the pass was too close to Aaron Ramsdale, who picked up the ball quite easily. With fourteen minutes of the match remaining, Eddie Nketiah robbed a Villa defender on the edge of the penalty area, squared it to Martin Ødegaard, whose shot went narrowly wide of the mark, when by rights, he should have scored easily. Ben White and Granit Xhaka was replaced by Takehiro Tomiyasu and Fabio Vieira, in order to get fresh legs on the pitch to make a difference. Aaron Ramsdale made a superb match-winning save from Jacob Ramsey that went off his hand onto the underside of the crossbar and out and into open play. As the match started to ebb away into the final five minutes, both sides were frenetically trying to grab a winner, and as such, silly mistakes were being made which are leading to goalscoring chances. Martin Ødegaard put a great free kick into the penalty area but Gabriel was only able to head it over the bar, sadly. With two minutes of normal time remaining, Jorginho passed a lovely ball to Bukayo Saka, who turned quickly on the edge of the penalty area but his shot lacked power and the Villa goalkeeper held it comfortably. Into the six minutes injury time, Aaron Ramsdale made yet another match winning save from Jhon Duran and a minute or so later, we grabbed a third goal when Jorginho hit a first-time effort from the edge of the penalty area that whacked against the crossbar, off the back of the head of Emiliano Martinez and into the net! Mikel Arteta brought on Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney to replace Martin Ødegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko, and then the greatest drama of the day happened. With Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez up in our penalty area for the last corner of the game, the ball was cleared to Fábio Vieira, who charged down the centre of the pitch before sending Gabriel Martinelli clear. With no goalkeeper to beat, all he had to do was roll it into an empty net and as such was celebrating before scoring! What an ending to an incredible match!
Although our performance at Villa Park today was uneven and ragged at times, and even frustrating, today we showed our mental strength, guts, determination and “never say die” attitude that is synonymous with our great teams of the past, which of course has become our hallmark throughout the decades. Winning titles and cups is all about overcoming adversity under pressure, and doing the simple things right, which is exactly what game we played at Villa Park this afternoon. Twice we came back from being behind, and we had the fortitude and courage to come back at Aston Villa, taking the game by the scruff of the neck and grab all three points with merely seconds left of the game. This match could be a turning point for us, as over the course of a season there are indeed peaks and troughs, as all great teams discover; it’s what you do when you are in the lowest possible ebb that counts. Keep going, chaps.
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: Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday 25th February at 3.00pm(Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
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