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Arsenal 2 - Aston Villa 1: still perfect

It was closer than it should have been, but a win is a win.

Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Arsenal downed Aston Villa 2-1 at the Emirates to maintain their perfect start to the Premier League season. It’s the fourth time the Gunners have won five straight to open a campaign and the first time since the 2004-05 season. The match was closer than it should have been, honestly. Arsenal easily could have been up as many as four goals at the half, but failed to convert nearly unmissable chances. I guess that’s why they’re “nearly” unmissable.

Aston Villa are in trouble. I was a bit perplexed why their results had been so poor over the last 15 Premier League matches (just 3 wins from 15) — they have good players. But after watching them “play” today, everything is cleared up. They don’t play football. Steven Gerrard sends them out to try to kick opponents off the pitch with brute-ball.

It nearly worked for them. Tyrone Mings wrestled Bukayo Saka to the ground in the box. VAR did not give the penalty. Jacob Ramsey held back and boxed out Aaron Ramsdale from getting to a Douglas Luiz corner that went straight in. VAR gave the goal. John McGinn came studs up into Martin Ødegaard’s foot / ankle, which eventually forced the Arsenal captain off, and only got a yellow for his troubles.

The referee was well out of his depth. He didn’t keep a close handle on things from the start. You can draw a straight line from his lax treatment of violent challenges to Ødegaard getting hurt. I’m sick and tired of referees not protecting players. The Premier League and PGMOL really screwed up with this “we’re letting more go” attitude this season. People don’t want to see hacks like John McGinn running around trying to break people’s ankles. Or guys like Tyrone Mings, a man who literally cannot defend without fouling, brutalizing opponents.

And one more note. What an absolute clownshow of a performance from Emi Martinez on that coming together with Gabriel Jesus. Martinez grabbed the Arsenal man around the neck then threw himself to the ground. It should have been a penalty to Arsenal. Martinez fouled Gabriel Jesus in the box. I have no idea what VAR is for if it’s not looking at that coming together.

But enough about the shocking incompetence of the referee and VAR. We should expect it at this point.

Arsenal won. They deserved to win. They were far the better team on the evening, but as we know, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get the points. The Gunners earned three points by getting hit with an equalizer and hitting right back with a goal of their own two minutes later to retake the lead.

There is an energy, a workrate, and a resilience to this squad. I won’t say it was completely lacking in past years, but it wasn’t as readily apparent. All eleven guys on the pitch are pulling together, running on and off the ball, and working in and out of possession. Add to that the quality of guys like Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Martin Ødegaard and it’s really fun to watch.

Hopefully Ødegaard’s injury was just a knock and not something more serious. Arsenal need him against Manchester United on Sunday. He’s playing fantastically well right now and is the straw that’s stirring the drink. Especially with Alex Zinchenko out of the lineup.

Gabriel Jesus got himself back on the scoresheet today. His energy is relentless. He must be a nightmare to play against. Credit to Granit Xhaka on the goal, too. His movement into space in the box unlocked the defense, and it was his fired shot-cross that Martinez spilled into Gabriel Jesus’ path. It’s really been fun watching Granit Xhaka 2.0, the guy who makes off-ball runs into the box and gets involved in scoring moves.

It would really be great if Bukayo Saka could score from open play. He missed a sitter and somehow didn’t convert on a goalmouth scramble. But he’s involved. He’s making things happen. And it was his work to come back from offside, make himself available, and pick out Martinelli at the back post that made the winning goal.

Sambi Lokonga played well. He’s much more progressive with the ball than Mo Elneny and made three or four nice, long, lofted passes. He’s got a bit of work to do positioning-wise when Arsenal aren’t in possession, but he’ll learn that with playing time. I think he showed more than enough today to earn himself more.

A quick shout out to Eddie Nketiah (again). Three times late in the match he helped break the Villa press, carried the ball 40-yards up the pitch, and tilted the field in the right direction. It was exactly what Arsenal needed from him to help kill off the match.

As was the case with the Fulham match, Arsenal found a way to win today. It could have and should have been a prettier, more comfortable performance. That’s the next step in the evolution of this Arsenal team, I think. Really putting opponents to the sword when in control of matches. But I far prefer this dominating matches and winning ugly to dominating matches and dropping points.