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Arsenal 0-2 Aston Villa: Unai Emery's sides' late goals deal huge blow to Gunners' Premier League title hopes

Report and free match highlights as Aston Villa stun Arsenal with 2-0 win at the Emirates; Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins strike late to strengthen Villa's top-four hopes; Arsenal second in Premier League, two points behind champions Man City with six games to play

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win against Arsenal in the Premier League

Arsenal's Premier League title hopes were dealt a huge blow by Unai Emery, who returned to stun his former club as Aston Villa claimed a 2-0 win at the Emirates.

The result may not be quite as devastating as their shock home defeat to Brighton that all but ended their title hopes last May, but Arsenal have once again handed the initiative to Manchester City after a stunning late collapse against Villa.

Mikel Arteta's side would have returned to the top of the Premier League with victory and were even handed a boost before kick-off when Liverpool slumped to defeat against Crystal Palace.

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Sky Sports' Gail Davis and Joe Shread discuss Arsenal's damaging defeat to Aston Villa at the Emirates

But after being frustrated by Villa in the first half, Arsenal were outplayed by their visitors in the second period and finally fell behind in the 84th minute through Leon Bailey's far-post finish.

The hosts were still reeling from that shock when Ollie Watkins scored a magnificent second - a goal that sucked the air out of the Emirates and strengthened Villa's grip on fourth place.

It also capped a perfect weekend for Manchester City, who thrashed Luton on Saturday and then watched their title rivals suffer what could be highly damaging defeats.

Player ratings:

Arsenal: Raya (6), White (7), Saliba (7), Gabriel (6), Zinchenko (5), Odegaard (7), Rice (6), Havertz (7), Saka (6), Jesus (6), Trossard (6).

Subs: Martinelli (6), Tomiyasu (6), Smith Rowe (6), Jorginho (6), Nketiah (6).

Aston Villa: Martinez (8), Konsa (7), Carlos (8), Torres (7), Digne (7), Zaniolo (8), Tielemans (8), McGinn (8), Rogers (7), Diaby (6), Watkins (8).

Subs: Bailey (8), Moreno (6).

Player of the Match: Diego Carlos

How Emery returned to stun Arsenal

Ollie Watkins celebrates after scoring late on to double Aston Villa's lead against Arsenal
Image: Ollie Watkins celebrates after scoring late on to double Aston Villa's lead against Arsenal

Seven days ago, Arsenal's prospects could not have looked healthier. A defence that had only conceded four Premier League goals in 2024 was being lauded as the strongest in the league as Arteta's side sat top of the table.

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But the cracks began to appear against Bayern Munich in midweek, when defensive errors contributed to both of the German side's goals, and Arsenal displayed their fallibility again against Villa.

Team news

  • Arsenal made three changes from the midweek draw against Bayern Munich, bringing Oleksandr Zinchenko, Gabriel Jesus and Leandro Trossard in for Jakub Kiwior, Jorginho and Gabriel Martinelli.
  • Aston Villa changed two players from their win over Lille on Thursday, starting Nicolo Zaniolo and Moussa Diaby in place of Douglas Luiz and Leon Bailey.

Arteta may well be pleased with what his side produced in the first half, when a furious start produced chances for Kai Havertz, Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka.

But there was a sign of things to come when a mix-up between Gabriel and Oleksandr Zinchenko presented an opportunity to Watkins, who struck the inside of the post.

Emiliano Martinez - who was outstanding against his former club - then pulled off a stunning reaction save to deny Leandro Trossard as the first-half ended goalless.

But Arsenal could not maintain their intensity after the break and Villa grew in confidence, with Youri Tielemans striking crossbar and post from the edge of the area.

Arteta turned to his bench in a bid to turn the tide - but it was a Villa substitute that broke the deadlock, with Bailey escaping Declan Rice to fire in at the far post.

Watkins was then given acres of space to run onto a long ball and clip a glorious finish over David Raya just two minutes later, sparking a rush for the exits among the home fans.

The result leaves Villa three points above fifth-placed Spurs but it's the damage to Arsenal's title hopes that will make the headlines.

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City could not have scripted a better weekend.

Arteta: The moment is now | 'We have to react'

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Mikel Arteta says his side must prove their mental strength after their Premier League defeat to Aston Villa and wants to see a reaction against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said: "We can't control [Manchester City]. What we can control is that when we have the run we had when you win, win, win, win, it's easy.

"The moment is now. After this blow, it's how we react. Now it's a big test for us.

"We have the best opportunity to react against Bayern Munich. The team has to show it. If you want to win, you have to overcome these situations.

"With the games we had, this was going to happen. It is now about how we react. This is in our control.

"In any other league in the world, if you won the number of games in a row that we did, you would be six or eight points clear. That is not the case here. That is the challenge."

Merson: Arsenal's title hopes are over

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Paul Merson believes there is no way back for Arsenal in the title race following their 2-0 loss to Aston Villa at the Emirates

Paul Merson accused Arteta of selecting the wrong XI, telling Sky Sports: "I said before the game I didn't like Arteta's decision with the team he picked.

"Keep on playing the same team that wins every week, don't have the wool pulled over your eyes from a 25-minute cameo against Bayern Munich. Jesus comes on and does well, and he moves Havertz.

"They've won nine of 10 with Jorginho and Havertz playing where they were. It was a bench today that if it wasn't going right, he didn't have anyone. Usually you have Trossard and Jesus to come on.

"He did it against Southampton last season when he left Jorginho out. The pressure gets to everybody. That's where you need a Pep Guardiola, who keeps cool."

Merson was also emphatic on his former side's chances of winning a first Premier League title since 2004, saying: "For me, it's gone. 100 per cent."

Emery: We were fantastic

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Unai Emery says Aston Villa's impressive Premier League win over Arsenal needs to start a consistent run of form to secure Champions League football next season

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery told Sky Sports: "Before the match, we were very motivated and very excited about the possibility.

"This is a very tough match and we needed to be focusing very well defensively. We wanted to be strong and have high commitment to defence in the first half, and wait for our moment to control the game.

"The first half was more difficult but we tried to dominate with the ball. Second half we competed very well.

"We are not being consistent in every match like I want but today we were fantastic."

Phenomenal Emery returns to haunt Arsenal

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery returned to haunt former club Arsenal at the Emirates
Image: Aston Villa boss Unai Emery returned to haunt former club Arsenal at the Emirates

Sky Sports' Dan Sansom at the Emirates:

It just had to happen, didn't it? On the weekend Arsenal could have moved one point clear at the top of the Premier League with just six games remaining, they're haunted by their former boss Unai Emery.

It was all set up for Arsenal to take pole position in the title race, with Liverpool being stunned at home by Crystal Palace earlier on Sunday, but the Gunners were left shocked themselves in front of their own fans.

While the headlines will be about Arsenal squandering their chance to return to the summit, it's important to praise Villa for what Gary Neville described as an "outstanding" display. Emery's side have big ambitions of their own and are now in a great position to finish in the top four following Tottenham's heavy defeat at Newcastle on Saturday.

Paul Merson believes Villa, who have not finished higher than fifth since 1997, are underrated and he has a point. Emery took over a side languishing near the bottom of the league in October 2022 and has since led them to within touching distance of Champions League football and a European trophy.

His appointment at Arsenal six years ago came at the wrong time but there is no doubt Emery is a phenomenal coach. The 52-year-old guided the Gunners to fifth place in his one full season in charge and while they have undoubtedly improved under Mikel Arteta, Emery could well have ruined their chances of winning their first title since 2004.

After completing the double over Arsenal this campaign, Emery has now lost just one of his seven games in all competitions against them. How pivotal will this result against his ex-employers prove to be?

Opta stats: Are Villa Arteta's bogey team?

  • Aston Villa have recorded a Premier League double over Arsenal for the third time, after the 1992/93 and 2020/21 seasons. The Gunners have only lost more league games under Mikel Arteta against Manchester City (7) than Villa (5).
  • Aston Villa are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League games in London (W7 D3), including on all six trips so far this season (W5 D1). Among non-London sides, only Manchester United (3 times) have ever had a longer unbeaten run away from home in the capital in the competition.
  • Arsenal suffered a Premier League defeat for the first time since New Year’s Eve against Fulham (1-2), whilst they have now failed to score in two of their last four league games, having only gone goalless in three of their first 28 games this season.
  • Unai Emery has lost just one of his seven games as a manager across all competitions against former club Arsenal (W3 D3), whilst he is still unbeaten as an away coach at the Emirates across games with PSG (D1), Villarreal (D1) and current club Aston Villa (W1).

What's next?

Arsenal travel to Bayern Munich for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday April 17; kick-off 8pm. The first leg finished 2-2.

Their next Premier League fixture is live on Sky Sports at Wolves on Saturday April 20; kick-off 7,30pm.

Aston Villa visit Lille for the second leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final on Thursday April 18; kick-off 5.45pm.

Villa then return to Premier League action at home to Bournemouth on Sunday April 21; kick-off 3pm.

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