Ollie Watkins’ early strike enough for Aston Villa to defeat Arsenal 1-0 after a hard fought defensive display at Villa Park.
The Villa striker scored goal number 10 of the season to earn the home side their first league double over the North London opposition since 1993.
Dean Smith would have been looking for a quick response from his side following Wednesday night’s defeat at home to West Ham, and he certainly got that as Aston Villa took the lead after 75 seconds.
An under hit back pass from Cedric was capitalised on by Bertrand Traore who squared to Watkins in the middle and his shot deflected past a debutant Matt Ryan to open the scoring – his third goal in four games.
For the first time in the Premier League concussion subs were available, and one might have been used had Ezri Konsa and Alexandre Lacacazette not been able to continue after an early head clash.
The new ruling sees each side have two permanent concussion subs per game and if a change is made, the opposing team will also be allowed to make an additional substitution at a time of their choosing.
Arsenal were struggling to test their former goalkeeper in the Villa goal from open play, but on the half hour forced Emiliano Martinez into a fantastic save from a free kick. Granit Xhaka’s left footed set piece looked to be heading to the top corner until the Argentine shot stopper tipped over to keep his side in front.
Villa had a key chance to increase their lead minutes later after link up play from Ross Barkley and Traore saw the winger presented with a one on one chance. The Burkina Faso international turned two Arsenal defenders to create space, however his disappointing panenka effort was saved by Ryan.
Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka started to grow into the game and drew fouls from both Konsa and Marvelous Nakamba who were both booked for their offences. The away dugout wasn’t too pleased Konsa was only shown a yellow for bringing down Saka just inside the Villa half, with Mikel Arteta viewing the centre back as denying a potential goal-scoring opportunity.
The visitors increased their hunt for an equaliser before the break, as the hosts found themselves camped inside their own half. Nicolas Pepe was next to try his luck, but his wild shot fired wide of the post.
Aston Villa’s first chance of the second half came inside two minutes when they caught Arsenal sleeping with a training ground corner routine. Jack Grealish played it short to John McGinn before finding Barkley who peeled away on the edge, however his scuffed shot was easily saved by Ryan.
The hosts’ strong start to the half continued and went close twice inside the first five minutes, Barkley heavily involved again. First the midfielder set up Watkins whose shot from outside the box was well saved by the Australian shot stopper before Barkley fired a left footed effort into the side netting.
Pepe was looking Arsenal’s most threatening player on the left and went close once again to levelling. The winger ran at the retreating Villa defence before shifting the ball onto his right, but once again his finish let him down as his effort bent wide of the post.
The on loan goalkeeper’s day was getting busier as time went on and this time he saved well to prevent McGinn doubling Villa’s lead. The Scotland international struck his shot sweetly from outside the area but Ryan was equal to it with a diving save to his left.
The intensity of the second half increased, turning into an end to end affair. Saka drove into the box and saw his shot blocked behind for a corner after a last second challenge from Targett.
Arsenal tuned to the bench in the hope of getting back into the game, introducing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and new arrival Martin Odegaard. Still the visitors struggled to break down the Villa defensive wall, led by a highly impressive Tyrone Mings.
Watkins thought he had wrapped the points up for Villa with eight minutes to go after a sloppy pass from the visitors gifted Villa a chance. Grealish picked up a loose ball in the middle before sliding in his striker whose left footed strike was inches from the far corner.
As Arsenal looked to fashion an opening, Watkins disposed Rob Holding on halfway before countering with Grealish and working himself into the box. Ryan was down low once again to deny a second and Gabriel was well positioned on the line to clear Jacob Ramsey’s goal bound header from the rebound.
Villa held on for five stoppage time minutes to claim clean sheet number 11 of the season after a fantastic defensive performance.
The three points for Aston Villa sees them total the same number of point’s (35) as they managed the whole of last season.