Aston Villa 2-4 Arsenal: The Late Late show
Arsenal are back on top of the Premier League after an extraordinary win at Villa Park yesterday.
The first half – Bukayo Saka’s fantastic goal apart – was, let’s face it, a bag of shite. We conceded early, and while you have to give credit to Ollie Watkins for a good finish, to lose the ball high up the pitch and see it in the back of our net a few seconds later tells you something went wrong.
Not as wrong as the second goal which, I suspect, will be under serious review in the manager’s video sessions this week. From back to front Villa played through us like a hot knife through butter. Not a single Arsenal player won a duel, and we know how upset Mikel Arteta gets when that happens. We haven’t conceded like that in a long time, to be fair, but it was an unpleasant reminder of times past.
It was clear that there was a bit of a midweek hangover, informed as well by the Brentford and Everton results. That funk we found ourselves in got a lot funkier. Then again, it was a toss up which to be more angry about: the performance, or the fact Bukayo Saka got booted around the pitch with impunity. That he ended up with a yellow card on a day when his boot was literally studded off his ankle by a nasty challenge, is absurd.
Half-time came, 2-1 Villa. We had been slow, unadventurous, passive, horseshoe-y. All the things you don’t want us to be, and I’ll be honest and admit I wasn’t sure we had it in us to turn the game around. Nevertheless, words must have been said at the break. The Arsenal players were sent out early having received some choice instructions from the manager, and we were better.
Saka had an early shot. Eddie hit the top of the bar with a header. Saka got some treatment for his ankle. And just after the hour mark we were level. Villa completely ignored Oleksandr Zinchenko which, having seen some of his shooting lately, I kinda understand, but the left back picked up the ball outside the box and drilled his first Arsenal goal into the bottom corner to make it 2-2. He had frustrated me in the first half, this was a very timely contribution.
Unai Emery started to get nervous. He took Coutinho off. Eddie then missed a great chance after a brilliant Odegaard pass, clipping it too high beyond Emi Martinez and the crossbar. Emery made another couple of subs. He wanted fresh legs for what he knew was coming. When you are Unai Emery, you must easily recognise the pattern of a game that looked like it was going your way before the pressure starts to mount in the opposite direction.
Gabriel Martinelli replaced Leandro Trossard. Martinez, who had been taking an age at every goal kick, took longer and longer.
“One one thousand. Two one thousand. Three one thousand … ⏩⏩⏩ twenty-seven one thousand”, and so on and so on. The ref never said a word. There is no six-second rule anymore. He’d hold it, hold it, hold it, then boot it. We’d deal, go up that end, and it would happen again.
Then came an extraordinary last twenty minutes or so. Eddie robbed Konsa and played a pass into the path of Odegaard. The Arsenal captain, on a day like this, with a chance to put us ahead and really tilt the game in our favour. This magic left foot whose influence was all over that second half in almost everything good we did. He couldn’t miss.
“Madre Mia!”, exclaimed the Spanish commentator.
How? Holy cow. Surely not. That felt like the defining moment. The big chance to go on and win the game. Arteta made two subs. Emery made two more subs, skittling his starting XI with two more lads who could run around a bit. Gabriel made a brilliant tackle in our box. A superb take and run from Leon Bailey saw him drive into the box, forcing a superb save from Ramsdale who pushed the ball onto the bar before we got it clear.
Gabriel then headed over from an Odegaard free kick. Time ticked on. Martinez wasted as much of it as humanly possible. Eventually the ref had to do something. Sure, it’s a bit like seeing one of your children kick a hole in the wall for an hour before you tell them to stop, but it was something. The former Arsenal keeper took his yellow card, then just kept on wasting time.
We had a corner, Villa broke and Ramsdale had to make another save. Fabio Vieira was the last defender. Arsenal were pushing and pushing, but also a bit exposed. Villa had the ball, we won it back, Martinelli played a pass into the path of Jorginho who was arriving on the edge of the D. The Italian international hit it first time. If the precision was slightly off, the control on the shot was immaculate. It smacked the bar … then came down and smacked the back of Martinez’s head and into the back of the net.
3-2! Time-waste that, pal. Amazing scenes. There’s nothing quite like seeing a player involved in completely understandable shithousery end up with shit in their own house. All over the house. Bricks of poo. It goes down as an own goal, which feels right in the circumstances, but fair play to Jorginho – and how much did he love it?
It wasn’t over though. The 6 minutes of added time, which could have been double that, meant Villa had a chance to grab an equaliser. There’s nothing quite like the fear a corner in the depths of injury time brings when you are holding onto a lead. Arteta’s face at that moment:
Martinez went up for it. We cleared it, the ball fell to Vieira who played a great pass into the path of Martinelli who made it 4-2 with the Villa keeper nowhere in sight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player celebrate an assist before the pass he’s played to the goalscorer has even reached his feet – and in tandem with Martinelli celebrating before he’d even put the ball in the net, it was glorious. Football, bloody hell, and all that.
Arteta’s face 41 seconds later.
At the final whistle, Unai Emery – in his cow pat brown gillet – stalked off down the line to the dressing room while the Arsenal players and fans celebrated. What a ridiculous game this is. I’ve been around the block a few times but the way you can be transported from despair to delight by 11 men kicking a football is still a wonder.
Afterwards, Arteta said:
I think we showed a lot of resilience, character and quality. The context of the game was difficult, with the performance that we had against City and getting nothing out of it. Then having to come here less than 72 hours later and finding ourselves 1-0 down after five minutes.
At half-time we said we had to raise the individual level, we had to look each other in the face and we had to do much more if we wanted to come out and win this game. We altered one or two things and then we produced a very strong performance and probably should have won it earlier than we did.
In the context of our season, and the last few weeks, this really is a huge win. Not only did it give us three points we badly needed, it’s the kind of win that can provide a real shot in the arm to a team that – if not quite in the doldrums – has been missing something over the last few weeks. I agree with Arteta that they showed character and quality, the second half was far, far better than the first, and when you’re a title race sometimes you have to find a way to win in extraordinary circumstances and we did just that.
It won’t make everything perfect, it’s still reasonable to worry a little about certain individuals, but on the morning after such an incredible win, it feels churlish to delve into that in any detail today. We have all week, on the blog and in podcasts, to discuss other aspects of it.
For now, just go about your Sunday imagining the feel of that ball thudding off the back of Martinez’s head and into the goal. What a pleasing sound it must have made. Enjoy the fact that City dropped points to Nottingham Forest. What felt like a really bad week for us has ended up being a pretty decent one in the end.
Now, I’m off to make some breakfast, I might celebrate the bacon before I even put it under the grill.
Have a good one folks, and don’t forget to join James and I for a Goodly Morning tomorrow.