Unai Emery praised Arsenal’s “amazing” team spirit but admits his side have to improve defensively after twice coming from behind to beat Aston Villa in a pulsating encounter at Emirates Stadium. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s stunning free-kick with six minutes remaining completed an unlikely turnaround for the Gunners, who had Ainsley Maitland-Niles sent off in the first half and were still trailing going into the final 10 minutes. John McGinn flicked home Anwar El Ghazi’s cross to put Villa ahead in the first half before Maitland-Niles was shown a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Neil Taylor four minutes before the break. Arsenal levelled early in the second period thanks to Nicolas Pepe’s first goal for the club from the penalty spot only for Wesley to restore Villa’s lead from Jack Grealish’s low cross less than two minutes later.
But in a thrilling conclusion, substitute Calum Chambers’ close-range finish brought the Gunners level on 81 minutes before Aubameyang’s late strike secured their third Premier League win of the season to lift Emery’s side back into the top four. The result was harsh on Villa, who impressed for long periods but paid the price for dropping far too deep in the closing stages and inviting Arsenal pressure. A fourth defeat from six league games means they remain in the bottom three. After opting for a mix of youth and experience for Thursday’s Europa League win at Eintracht Frankfurt, Emery recalled the bulk of his senior stars for the meeting with Villa. That meant the Spaniard went with the same back four that lost a two-goal lead at Watford last weekend, and another shaky performance here means they have still not kept a clean sheet in the league since the opening day of the season, conceding 10 goals in five games.
The defensive problems ultimately did not cost them the result against Villa, but Emery cannot rely on his attacking players to bail out his team all the time if they are to make a sustained challenge for the top four. A lack of urgency and desire to close the Villa players down led to the opening goal, with El Ghazi given plenty of time to cross for McGinn, who found himself completely unmarked after ghosting ahead of Matteo Guendouzi. Guendouzi summed up Arsenal’s performance, he was often sloppy in possession and his failure to track McGinn led to the first goal, but he led by example in the closing stages with a series of driving runs into the penalty area.
One of those runs resulted in a sloppy tackle from Bjorn Engels, allowing Pepe to equalise from the spot early in the second half. After Arsenal went behind again Guendouzi drew a fine save from Tom Heaton, who pushed his low drive from the edge of the box on to the post. With Villa seemingly unable to get out of their final third, Arsenal’s pressure finally told. A mistake by Tyone Mings allowed Chambers, brought on in response to Maitland-Niles’ dismissal, to stab a looping effort beyond Heaton. Then, after Aubameyang was brought down just outside the area, the Gabon striker curled beyond an unmoved Heaton to send the Emirates crowd, who were frustrated for much of the afternoon, into raptures.