After such an electric start to the season, it’s fair to say that the feel-good factor has returned to the Emirates Stadium. Saturday’s win over Fulham was a shining example of just how much Mikel Arteta’s team has progressed in recent months.
However, one potential curveball that could knock the wind out of Arsenal’s sails was injuries to key players. Thomas Partey will be absent for a short period, while Mohamed Elneny is expected to be out of action for far longer; long enough that Arsenal may need to dip their toes back into the transfer market.
However, despite 24 hours or so remaining in the transfer window, it was the visit of Aston Villa that Arsenal needed to focus on.
Arsenal started well. While the visitors looked to stamp their approval on the game, Arsenal began to grow into a fast-paced rhythm, one that could only be thwarted by aggressive tackles designed to break-up the play.
While Aston Villa’s tactic seemed to work for the opening seven or eight minutes, Arsenal soon began to play around them.
Try as they might, Villa just couldn’t get near Arsenal and on those rare occasions that they did win the ball back, Arsenal immediately had it back and began to attack in earnest.
Early chances began to look promising. Both Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Magalhães tested Emiliano Martínezto force some good saves, but arguably the best chance of the game thus far fell to Bukayo Saka, who found himself unmarked at the back-post, but blazed his effort wide of the open goal.
It wouldn’t be an Arsenal match without some refereeing or VAR controversy and this game was chock-full of them. Arsenal found themselves having a stonewall penalty turned down, despite Tyrone Mings’ body-slam on Bukayo Saka.
Despite this, Arsenal found a way to break the deadlock.
A cross by the superb Granit Xhaka rebounded onto Emiliano Martínez, who couldn’t hold the ball and spilled it into the path of Gabriel Jesus, who rifled home a left-footed finish to open the scoring.
From there, it was just chance after chance from Arsenal. Gabriel Martinelli came close with a superb volley from long-range and Gabriel jesus continued to test Martínez.
In the second-half, Villa looked to have marginally improved. They began to attack with a bit more purpose and Arsenal had to keep their concentration to deny them.
At the other end, Arsenal were completely unable to score their second. Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka all tested Martínez, but, try as they might, they just couldn’t score.
VAR once again played a huge part in the rest of the match.
First of all, Gabriel Jesus was denied a penalty, despite Martínez holding the Brazilian in a headlock and, when he saw the referee was watching, decided to throw himself to the ground as if he had been the wronged party.
At the other end, Arsenal paid for not putting their chances away.
Substitute Douglas Luiz whipped in a corner, which flew past Aaron Ramsdale to draw the visitors level.
It was astounding that VAR had not noticed Ramsdale being impeded by an Aston Villa attacker. The player was holding Ramsdale from behind and virtually moving him out of the way.
Whatever complaints Arsenal could have regarding VAR were soon short-lived, however.
Back at the other end, barely three minutes after Luiz’s equaliser, Arsenal found themselves in front again.
Gabriel Martinelli did exceptionally well to break throuhg the Villa defence, feeding the ball to Albert Sambi Lokonga, who, despite the shot being on, spread the ball wide to Bukayo Saka who then picked Martinelli out at the back post to unleash a spectacular volley, which had Martínez beaten from the moment it left his boot.
The relief that broke around the Emirates from Martinelli’s finish was palpable and soon turned into fully-fledged jubilation once the final whistle blew on a deserved Arsenal victory.
It was possibly some of the best football that Arsenal have played in a very long time. A performance in which Arsenal created chances left, right and centre, followed by exceptional high-intensity pressing.
There were standout performances in virtually every position, but the performances of Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli were at the heart of what made Arsenal tick.
Xhaka did an exceptional job of covering the equally superb Albert Sambi Lokonga. The Swiss international appears to be thriving in his new “number eight” role and he was popping up all over the pitch, creating chances and winning back posession.
In the forward line, both Gabriels were a handful for Villa to contain. Gabriel Jesus is looking to be worth every penny of the £45m Arsenal spent on him this summer, hassling defenders, winning near-impossible headers and effectively taking up the role of a box-to-box midfielder with the amount of ground he covered.
As for Gabriel Martinelli, the youngster is looking more and more settled in his role on the left-hand side and his tricky feet, coupled with his explosive pace was entirely too much for Villa to handle.
It was a deserved victory for Arsenal, one that really should have ended with another two or three goals, but Arsenal will take the three points gladly as the attention turns to Manchester United on Sunday.
However, they can be pleased with themselves, after all, the club hasn’t boasted a 100% record from their opening five fixtures since 2004/2005.
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White (Tomiyasu (64’)
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Holding 88’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c) (Smith Rowe 81’)
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Gabriel Jesus (Nketiah 88’)
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
72.) Matt Smith
21.) Fábio Vieira
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
14.) Eddie Nketiah
Aston Villa team:
1.) Emiliano Martínez
2.) Matty Cash
4.) Ezri Kons
5.) Tyrone Ming
27.) Lucas Digne
41.) Jacob Ramsey
44.) Boubacar Kamara (Ings 83’)
7.) John McGann (c) (Douglas Luiz 73’)
31.) Leon Bailey
11.) Ollie Watkins
10.) Emiliano Buendía (Coutinho 73’)
Aston Villa subs:
25.) Robin Olsen
16.) Calum Chambers
18.) Ashley Young
17.) Ludwig Augustinsson
6.) Douglas Luiz
47.) Tim Iroegbunam
23.) Philippe Coutinho
35.) Cameron Archer