In pictures: Arsenal v Aston Villa
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The Brazilian was quickest to pounce and drill home his third goal of the season after ex-Arsenal stopper Emiliano Martinez inexplicably spilled Granit Xhaka’s driven cross. Martinelli almost added a second shortly before half time, but his fine fizzed volley was tipped over by Martinez.
The Gunners then looked to have been punished for their failure to kill off the game after Villa substitute Luiz saw his in-swinging corner evade Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and find the net with just over 15 minutes remaining. However, Arsenal responded immediately as Martinelli tapped home a Saka cross down the other end to ensure Arteta’s side maintained their 100 per cent record this season. Express Sport take a look at what we learned from a fiercely-contested Premier League clash at the Emirates.
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Jesus embracing added responsibility
It’s says a lot about Arteta’s ambitious project at Arsenal that a recently-recruited Jesus, still only 25-year-old, has already been entrusted with ample responsibility at the Emirates. The forward had already proven his star quality with Manchester City prior to heading to north London, but this season, he looks better than ever.
Jesus continued his scintillating start to life at Arsenal with yet another goal against Villa, but his performance showed so much more than that. The £45million man is clearly feeling loved and embracing his new role at the spearhead of Arteta’s side.
The former City star has instantly been installed as a key figure in the squad alongside Xhaka and captain Odegaard, and he’s clearly embracing his new leadership role. Whisper it quietly, but on this evidence, if Jesus stays fit, the Gunners may well be in the mix for the Premier League title.
Gunners have both style and substance
Arteta’s side have been so easy-on-the-eye this season as all the pieces of his Arsenal puzzle continue to fall into place, and against Villa, the Gunners continued to ooze confidence and flair. The north Londoners zipped the ball around a slick looking Emirates pitch and carved their opponents open at times on Wednesday night.
But perhaps more pleasing for Arteta than seeing his side continue to demonstrate their smooth possession-based style was the substance they also showed. Villa presented a physical threat from the off and put some full-blooded challenges in on Arteta’s men.
However, Arsenal were well up for the fight and gave as good as they got as the game took on an intense and fiery feel. The Gunners have so often been accused of lacking a backbone and resilience in recent seasons, but this current incarnation cut a far more determined and dogged outfit. Arteta’s evolving side clearly possess both style and substance.
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Sambi Lokonga seizes chance
Much has been made of Arsenal’s need to bolster their midfield this summer, and with both Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey facing spells on the sidelines, it’s thought Arteta may well dip back into the market before the transfer window closes at 11pm on Thursday night. However, the Gunners may not need to after all.
With Elneny having tweaked his hamstring against Fulham at the weekend, Albert Sambi Lokonga was entrusted with his first start of the season against Villa. And the 22-year-old repaid his manager for his faith.
The Belgian seamlessly slotted into Arsenal’s midfield and his display was further evidence of how Arteta’s squad are all singing from the same song sheet. While Sambi Lokonga was by no means spectacular, he was solid and assured, proving to Arteta he deserves more opportunities to kick on this season.
Xhaka thriving in new role
There was a time when Xhaka was public enemy number one in north London, but the Swiss star has gone some way to redeeming himself in recent times. This season in particular, he has emerged as a key figure in Arteta’s aspiring side.
On countless occasions against Villa, Xhaka made marauding runs into the box to support Jesus and the ploy proved particularly effective. With Lokonga acting as the midfield safety blanket on this occasion, the 29-year-old was allowed to charge from deep and cause Villa’s midfield and defence all manner of problems.
Embracing more of a free role this season, Xhaka was imperative for Arsenal’s opener and is proving to be an effective link between the Gunners’ midfield and attack, alongside Odegaard. On this evidence, the midfielder will chip in with plenty of goals of his own this season, too.
Villa respond to Gerrard demand
After seeing his side booed off having slipped to a 1-0 home defeat to West Ham on Sunday, Villa boss Steven Gerrard laid down a marker to his squad. The Liverpool legend somewhat shirked accountability for the Villains’ lacklustre display by throwing the onus back on his players.
“Yes, I’ve got confidence and belief in this group, but the key thing is they believe in each other,” Gerrard said. “They’re the ones who’ve got to act right now – we’ll help them and support them in any way we can, but it’s got to come from within as well.”
While Arsenal in this form unsurprisingly turned out to be too much for Villa to handle, Gerrard would have been enthused by the commitment his players showed at times on Wednesday night. Though they were blunt in attack, the Midlanders were aggressive in their play and the passionate celebrations on show when the defence dug deep to deny Arsenal on countless occasions in the first half is the sort of spirit which could turn the tide and save Gerrard his job over the next few weeks.
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