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MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3 – 1 Aston Villa

Arsenal (2) 3 Aston Villa (0) 1

Premier League

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Friday, 22nd October, 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm

(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Thomas Partey, Albert Sambi Lokonga; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; Alexandre Lacazette.

Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Martin Ødegaard, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Mohamed Elneny, Sead Kolašinac, Gabriel Martinelli.

Scorers: Thomas Partey (23 mins), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (penalty, 45+6), Emile Smith-Rowe (55 mins)

Yellow Cards: Albert Sambi Lokonga, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 54%

Referee: Craig Pawson

Assistant Referees: Richard West, Dan Robathan

Fourth Official: Michael Salisbury

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Michael Oliver; AVAR Peter Kirkup

Attendance: 59,496

Alexandre Lacazette will make his first Premier League start since April, whilst Bukayo Saka has been passed fit to start tonight despite being injured in Monday’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace; however, we have made three changes from that match, with Alexandre Lacazette, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga replacing Kieran Tierney, Nicolas Pépé and Martin Ødegaard. And, interesting to see that both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette make a start together tonight too!

We kicked off proceedings, and within seconds Oli Watkins received the first yellow card of the evening when he threw Gabriel to the ground unnecessarily. It could be one of those nights methinks. After that unsavoury incident, both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka came mighty close to opening the scoring when both of their inspired efforts came to nothing, sadly. Arsenal applied pressure to the visitors’ defence, and it looked as if they had no answer to our relentless, goal-hungry play. We had a goal disallowed after eight minutes when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang managed to get the ball in the net, but unfortunately referee Craig Pawson cancelled it out because Alexandre Lacazette fouled an Aston Villa player (apparently) just before the disallowed goal. The game started to turn into a physical battle of wills, with Arsenal getting the better of the visitors time and time again. After nineteen minutes, a Bukayo Saka free-kick into the Villa penalty area found Thomas Partey, who was desperately unlucky in hitting the bar with his trusty right foot from almost point-blank range; four minutes later, Thomas Partey opened the scoring (and his Arsenal account also) anyway, when a Emile Smith-Rowe corner found his head and he managed to glance the ball into the net. Having scored the opening goal, we made every effort to break down the Villa defence in order to grab a second one. Having said that, on the half hour, Nuno Tavares ran down the left wing, unselfishly crossed the ball into the Villa penalty area, but sadly Bukayo Saka failed to score in a one-to-one situation with our old goalkeeper, Emi Martinez. However, we continued to dominate, and as shot after shot rained down on the Villa goal, there appeared to be only team on the pitch tonight at the Emirates, and it certainly was not the visitors! Complete control. On the stroke of half-time, Albert Sambi Lokonga received a controversial yellow card for a foul on John McGinn; however the resulting free-kick came to nothing. Deep into injury time, Matt Targett went straight through Alexandre Lacazette, when attempting to clear the ball. Craig Pawson had a look at the pitch-side monitor, subsequently gave the penalty (quite deservedly), and despite objections to the fourth official from Villa manager Dean Smith, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took the penalty, which was unbelievably saved by Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez, but he was straight on to the rebound in a flash and unceremoniously whacked the ball past his former Arsenal team-mate and into the net at the second time of asking. Craig Pawson blew the whistle for both the goal and the half-time break, and we went into the hiatus deservedly in the lead.

The second half started pretty much where the first one finished, with Arsenal showing their class and dominance again. To be fair, the visitors tried to make a better fist of things, but we managed to contain them. After one or two unlucky attempts on goal, ten minutes after the restart, after Emile Smith Rowe intercepted John McGinn’s error on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area, he ran down the pitch as a couple of passes were bouncing around in pinball fashion, before the ball reached him racing down the left-hand channel. Emile Smith-Rowe lined up a right-footed shot that looked like it took a deflection off Tyrone Mings’ leg before hitting the left post and the back of the Aston Villa net for our third goal of the night. Brilliant and superb. What a player. Although the visitors came back in the game just after the break, the match was now so heavily weighed in our favour, that was starting to look halfway to a rout. Just after a pointless booking for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when he tackled Douglas Luiz rather strongly, Martin Ødegaard replaced an injured Alexandre Lacazette after sixty-seven minutes, and the Arsenal express train just continued. Albert Sambi Lokonga made way for Ainsley Maitland-Niles with eighteen minutes of the match remaining, and his mere presence on the pitch fired up the chaps even more. With three goals to the good, the match started to level out a bit now, and every time we went forward we looked extremely dangerous, and our ability to move into the forward positions is truly a sight to behold. Douglas Luiz fouled Bukayo Saka on the edge of the penalty area, and the subsequent free-kick from Martin Ødegaard was acrobatically saved by Emi Martinez. Not again. Just nine minutes from the end of the match, after a bit of a mix-up on the edge of our penalty area, Jacob Ramsey struck a right-footed shot that went past Aaron Ramsdale into the net, giving him absolutely no chance to save it. This goal gave the visitors the impetus and desire to get something out of this match, when in all essence, they looked as if they had no chance to do so. Now was the time, if there ever was one, to start employing game management, and with just minutes to go, we did just that, in order to preserve our lead and take the sting out of any possible Villa attempt to score, of which there was one or two, all of which went happily wide. In injury time, a limping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was replaced by Gabriel Martinelli, who immediately tore into the fray. Our hearts were in our mouths when, with a minute of the match remaining, Aston Villa had a free-kick awarded to them on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area; thankfully Jacob Ramsey’s inspired effort went over the bar, and seconds later, Craig Pawson blew his trusty whistle and we ran out worthy winners. And in doing so, we moved into the top half of the Premiership table, in ninth place. A good night’s work all round.

A superb win, well deserved, no doubt about it, and tonight there were several players that played unbelievably well, namely Bukayo Saka, Ben White (who was immense again at the back) and Emile Smith-Rowe, of course, whose talent and skill positively lit the stadium up with their brilliance. For eighty minutes, Arsenal were literally the only team on the pitch, but then Aston Villa scored a consolation goal, and we started to wonder if history was going to repeat itself. Thankfully, we pulled ourselves together enough to regain control and collect the three points, which was badly needed. This win should give them the confidence to defeat Leeds United on Tuesday, and Leicester City next weekend; but we’ll see. That’s football.

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: Leeds United at the Emirates on Tuesday, 26th October at 7.45pm (Carabao/EFL Cup). 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.

Emile Smith Rowe Easter Eggs

This will be geekish but did anyone else spot the Easter eggs in the Emile Smith Rowe contract announcement?

Firstly we have the new number announcement. Number 10.

This announcement was made on the anniversary of Arsenal’s last great number 10’s testimonial game – Dennis Bergkamp.

Not only was it the number, but look at the length of the video.

32 seconds.

Smith Rowe’s old number? 32.

It will mean nothing to most and the majority won’t care. But stuff like that I love.

Have a good day.

Keenos

Despite Emile Smith Rowe’s performance, Arsenal still need to BUY to replace Mesut Ozil

Yesterday we spoke a little about Emile Smith Rowe’s development, and continuing down that line, I would like to expand on some thoughts.

Smith Rowe has been fantastic since coming into the Arsenal team against Chelsea on Boxing Day.

He has now started the last 5 league  games in row, with Arsenal winning 4. He also came off the bench to score the winner against Newcastle in the FA Cup.

But it is important that we do not overhype him.

Despite his performances, we should be careful not to label him as the successor to Mesut Ozil as Arsenal’s number 10 or “the next Kevin de Bruyne”.

Ozil was a world class performer for Arsenal – albeit he had not performed to that level for a few years. Whilst Smith Rowe is a young kid with half a dozen Premier League starts to his name.

What Edu, Mikel Arteta and the recruitment team need to do is add an experienced head alongside Smith Rowe in the squad – and no, I am not talking about Willian “experience”.

I had a blog in my drafts about how Arsenal should be looking to sign both Julian Brandt and Emi Buendía to replace Ozil; giving Arteta 2 options at 10.

The saving in Ozil’s wages along would be enough to finance a move for both layers, covering salaries and amortised transfer fees.

That blog is now scrapped as I believe Smith Rowe has shown enough that he should be back up 10 next season.

This would not only save Arsenal money but would also save us a non-home grown player squad space. Smith Rowe is home grown, Brandt and Buendía not.

So we have Smith Rowe as one option as 10 and go out and sign either Brandt or Buendía (not both) to be the senior man.

This is not saying that Smith Rowe is not good enough; more that at 20, he still needs to improve to reach the level of Ozil. He is not yet at the level of Brandt.

My feeling is it should be Brandt ahead of Buendía. The German is the superior player.

This would then give Arteta the option of Brandt or Smith Rowe as a 10.

What is exciting about both (and Buendía) is their versatility. All 3 men can play in the middle, left or right of the 3.

One of Ozil’s great attributes was his ability to drift across the pitch and find space. He did not just stay central and would be a creative outlet throughout the final 3rd.

When he drifted to the wide positions, it then gave space in the middle for Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla or Alexis Sanchez to fill. This concept is something that Arteta needs to build on.

The 3 behind the striker should be interchangeable. All capable of playing left, right and centre. That way it creates fluidity behind the leading striker and allows us to create 2 or even 3 on ones outwide.

We have already seen the benefit when Smith Rowe drifts left, teaming up with Kieran Tierney and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to overload that side. Likewise with Saka and Bellerin on the right.

A fluid 3 behind a striker also makes us a lot harder to defend.

Saka, for example, has very different attributes to Brandt. A full back would have to switch up his game plan as the two interchange positions.

I am sure one of the reasons Willian was signed was due to his versatility behind the front man.

Smith Rowe is equally as versatile as Willian. His performances do make you further question why we gave the Brazilian a 3 year deal.

My feeling is Arteta had just not seen enough of Smith Rowe – he was out on loan for the 2nd half of last season and he started this season with a shoulder injury.

Smith Rowe might not yet be ready to fill Ozil’s shoes, but he has shown that he has a future at Arsenal and will be a key member of the first team squad for the next 18 months.

We just need to add a senior man alongside him.

Brandt rather than Buendía.

Keenos