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UNAI EMERY became a figure of fun for his polite catchphrase as Arsenal boss.

But this was another very good “ebening” indeed for the Spaniard.

Aston Villa are two points off top after beating Arsenal 1-0.
Aston Villa for the title? Stranger things have happened.

For now, though, Emery can take satisfaction from maintaining his side’s stunning home record and continuing their fabulous 2023.

And, of course, from doing a little damage to the aspirations of the club where he became a scapegoat for the stuttering start to the post-Arsene Wenger era.

John McGinn’s brilliant early goal earned them a very different victory to their triumph against current champions Manchester City.

On Wednesday night, Emery’s merry men totally outplayed City and restricted them to just two shots on target, the fewest of Pep Guardiola’s glittering reign in the Premier League.

Today at a vibrant Villa Park, they gave up some golden opportunities but Arsenal, and captain Martin Odegaard in particular, wasted them and so passed up the opportunity to return to the top of the league.

On the overall balance of play, a draw would have been a fair result. And the Gunners thought they had snatched a point in the 90th minute, only for referee Jarred Gillett to rule out Eddie Nketiah’s close-range effort for handball by Kai Havertz.

Manager Mikel Arteta was forced to watch his side lose their second game of the league season from the stands after picking up his third yellow card for over-celebrating his side’s last-kick winner against Luton in midweek.

Mikel Arteta was helpless as the suspended boss watched the action from the stands.
Kai Havertz thought he’d netted a late equaliser but it was ruled out by VAR for handball.
Back in February, he had enjoyed a late win on this ground, with two stoppage-time goals that had the travelling fans believing they were going to be champions.

That was also the last time Villa failed to win at home in the Premier League.

Their 15th success in a row need not be too big a blow for Arteta and Arsenal.

But it certainly raises the intriguing prospect of what everyone thought would be a three-way battle for the title becoming a four-horse race instead.

When margins are fine, taking chances is vital and in their bid to be first among equals, Arsenal learnt a hard lesson in the Second City.

They should have gone ahead inside six minutes but Bukayo Saka volleyed wastefully wide from Gabriel Martinelli’s lovely cross.

And moments later Villa’s own wingers combined to deadly effect. It was a sensational goal.

In a matter of seconds, the home side worked it from back to front and Leon Bailey ran on to collect a return pass from Youri Tielemans.

McGinn opened the scoring after just seven minutes.
The Jamaica international took three visiting players out of the game by dashing to the byline and pulling the ball back for McGinn, who spun and smashed it past David Raya.

The Villa crowd, already well up for it, went wild. Every Arsenal error in the following minutes was cheered to the rafters.

While Villa looked like a slick unit, with an almost telepathic understanding, the visiting players were often not on the same wavelength.

Saka hitting an attempted pass firmly and directly out of play summed up how things were going for his team. They struggled for a while to cope with the movement and technique of their opponents, especially the elusive Tielemans.

As Arsenal’s frustration grew, Oleksandr Zinchenko was booked for pulling back the Belgian maestro, after team-mate Kai Havertz had earlier somehow avoided the same punishment for the same offence on the same player.

Gradually, though, the visitors started to gain the upper hand and created three openings in quick succession.

Saka and Martin Odegaard failed to make the most of theirs because of tame shots, but Martinelli would have equalised if he had managed to put a little more on his lob over Emi Martinez. Instead Diego Carlos retreated to clear without too much bother.

Then Odegaard had the best chance of all, only to delay his shot and then hit it too close to the Villa goalkeeper. Gabriel Jesus forced another save out of Martinez and the lead held.

Bukayo Saka was among the Arsenal stars who fluffed their lines.
Home hearts were in mouths again soon after the break but VAR saw no compelling reason to award a penalty for Douglas Luiz’s clash with Jesus.

An equaliser felt inevitable as Villa were pinned back and lost the composure they had shown in the opening half an hour. Having played their way through the press with ease before, now they were tempting fate with mistakes.

A Martinez gaffe from a corner almost led to striker Ollie Watkins scoring at the wrong end but the ball came back off the post. Then Odegaard shot horribly wide of an open goal after Havertz had laid it on a plate for him.

Emery and Villa needed to find a way to regain the initiative. A rare break ended with Lucas Digne hitting a shot straight at Raya, who also dealt well with an effort by half-time substitute Moussa Diaby.

The France international was worrying the Gunners with his pace. Next he teed up Watkins, whose spin and shot was also saved by Raya.

Emery’s substitutions were taking effect, the four sets of fresh legs allowing his team to start playing in their opponents’ half again.

Matty Cash was lively, sending a long-range shot wide. Leandro Dendoncker was strong in midfield.

They were holding on by the end, though. But after a long VAR check, Gillett’s decision to rule out Nketiah’s “equaliser” was upheld.

And there was to be no stoppage-time drama to save Arsenal this time.

Havertz was left incensed when his goal was dramatically ruled out.

 

 

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