It’s fair to say that Arsenal have endured the fortnight from hell. From a bizarre defeat away to Everton, followed by a controversial draw to Brentford and then another defeat at home to Manchester City.
Mikel Arteta and his team have been looking to put things right and a visit to the new home of former manager Unai Emery wasn’t the most inviting prospect.
Emery has never lost a game against Arsenal and Villa Park has not exactly proven to be a happy hunting ground in recent seasons.
There were some changes to the starting XI. Gabriel Martinelli was dropped to the bench to hand Leandro Trossard his first Premier League start for the club and Thomas Partey was still absent, allowing for Jorginho to start his second game-in-a-row.
However Arsenal wanted to start the game, it almost certainly didn’t go to plan. In the opening four minutes, Oleksandr Zinchenko made one of his trademark runs upfield, only to be dispossessed by Matty Cash, which sprung a lightning-quick counter attack.
Cash’s ball fed Ollie Watkins to sprinted into the Arsenal penalty area, avoiding the hapless William Saliba and burying his effort into the far corner to give the hosts the lead.
Arsenal looked shell-shocked, but Villa’s lead only lasted just over 10 minutes.
Benjamin White’s cross was bizarrely cleared by Tyrone Mings straight into Bukayo Saka, who’s superb first-time volley flew like a bullet into the roof of the net to draw the visitors level.
However, as Arsenal continued to pile on pressure, Villa struck once more.
Another fast counter-attacking move took advantage of Arsenal’s exceptionally high line and after a clever dummy from Emiliano Buendía, Philippe Coutinho had all the time in the world to tuck away Villa’s second.
Arsenal went in at half-time much the worse for wear.
The second half seemed to breathe new life into Arsenal. Emery’s substitutions in midfield had granted Martin Ødegaard far more space and the team began to take advantage of the gaps left in behind.
However, it was a corner that gave Arsenal their second.
Unable to contest with either the height of Villa’s defenders or the imposing penalty area control of former-Gunner Emiliano Martínez, Arsenal had decided to go short from corners.
On their third attempt, Ødegaard played the ball to the edge of the box for Oleksandr Zinchenko, who lashed a superb effort into the bottom corner to draw Arsenal level, grabbing his first Arsenal goal and his first-ever Premier League goal in the process.
The clock ticked down relentlessly, but Arsenal simply couldn’t find an opening anywhere. Eddie Nketiah came close on several occasions, as did Martin Ødegaard, with arguably the miss of the season following some lapse in concentration among the Villa backline.
Villa themselves came close with Leon Bailey, only for Aaron Ramsdale to produce a spectacular save to push his effort onto the post.
But hope came in the most unlikely of forms.
Gabriel Martinelli played the ball to the edge of the penalty area for the waiting Jorginho, who decided to let rip from distance.
The Italian midfielder wasn’t exactly renowned for his shooting abilities when at Chelsea, but this one looked to have goal of the season on it, had it not cannoned off the crossbar.
The ball then bounced down and off the head of Martínez into the back of his own net to give Arsenal the lead for the first time in the game.
No one could really quite believe what they’d seen. Arsenal had plucked a potential win out of nowhere.
But the drama was not over yet.
Martínez knew that Villa needed a goal and so, on their final corner of the match, decided to commit himself into the Arsenal penalty area.
Villa’s corner broke out of the Arsenal penalty area and allowed Arsenal to break forward.
Fábio Vieira fed the ball to Gabriel Martinelli, who put on an extra burst of speed and found himself clean through on an open-goal.
Martinelli had his arms aloft as he entered Villa’s penalty area, but the “Benny Hill Theme Music” from so many “Funny Football” YouTube videos must have played in his head, because he made no mistake in buring the ball to give Arsenal their 4th goal and all three points.
It was. a wild and chaotic game, one that really seemed to typify the incredible mental fortitude of this Arsenal side.
Usually, it would be a time to wax lyrical over the players, but the collective mindset cannot be overstated here.
To go behind twice and to have to keep fighting to the end is the kind of mentality Arsenal have lacked for far too long. Not knowing when you’re beat may, dare you say it, the mindset of champions.
To put their chaotic fortnight behind them, come away with the win and, given Manchester City’s draw with Nottingham Forest, finding themselves ending the gameweek back at the top of the Premier League table, is something Arsenal can be immensely proud of.
Arsenal must now cut their celebrations short. Leicester City away beckons them next and, after their disastrous display at Old Trafford, Brendan Rodgers side will be out for a quick change in fortunes.
Aston Villa team:
1.) Emiliano Martínez
2.) Matthew Cash
4.) Ezri Konsa
5.) Tyrone Mings
15.) Álex Moreno (Digne 77’)
6.) Douglas Luiz (Dendoncker 66’)
44.) Boubacar Kamara
7.) John McGinn
23.) Philippe Coutinho (Ramsey 61’)
10.) Emiliano Buendía (Bailey 66’)
11.) Ollie Watkins (Durán 78’)
Aston Villa subs:
38.) Viljami Sinisalo
16.) Calum Chambers
18.) Ashley Young
27.) Lucas Digne
32.) Leander Dendoncker
41.) Jacob Ramsey
31.) Leon Bailey
22.) Jhon Durán
9.) Bertrand Traoré
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White (Tomiyasu 79’)
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko (Tierney 94’)
34.) Granit Xhaka (Vieira 78’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c) (Holding 84’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
19.) Leandro Trossard (Martinelli 68’)
14.) Eddie Nketiah
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
15.) Jakub Kiwior
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
3.) Kieran Tierney
21.) Fábio Vieira
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
24.) Reiss Nelson
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
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