Villa Park roars as one. Unai Emery celebrates with a huge smile. Aston Villa had to dig in to hold onto the lead John McGinn gave them early doors, but they did so staunchly. Arsenal were blunt in the final third, and pass up their opportunity to go back to the top of the Premier League. Villa meanwhile close in on them, just a point behind in third now, and two off Liverpool’s lead. We’ve got ourselves a title race this season all right! Over to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow.
First Villa beat the champions, now they’ve seen off last year’s runners-up! It’s 15 consecutive home wins for Unai Emery’s men: a new club record!
90 min +9: Up in the stand, Mikel Arteta has seen enough. He storms off up the stairs and through a door, out of sight.
90 min +8: Rice crosses from the right. Nketiah can only send a diving header miles over the bar. Turns out he’s offside anyway.
90 min +7: Martinez claims a long pass on the edge of his own box. Havertz crashes into him late. Martinez springs up and squares up. The referee splits them up. All the while, the clock ticks on; that’s daft by Havertz to get involved.
90 min +6: Havertz dribbles into the box from the left. He’s hounded off the ball. McGinn counters down the right and wins a throw that’s celebrated almost as loudly as his goal was nearly two hours ago.
90 min +5: McGinn romps after a long pass down the right. He enters the box but waits too long before shooting and his effort is blocked. The ball rebounds to Dendoncker, who opens his body and aims for the bottom left. That one also fails to get through. The tension in Villa Park is palpable.
90 min +4: Nelson comes on for Zinchenko. You’d imagine there are still five minutes at least to play.
90 min +3: During the melee, Martinez took a stud in the face from his own man Cash. On comes the physio to stem the flow of blood.
90 min +2: Five added minutes. The first two are taken up with VAR rock-and-rolling the footage. Eventually it’s announced that the on-field decision will stand. That’s a great call in real time by the referee. Some old-school decision-making, right there!
90 min: Nketiah bundles Saka’s right-wing cross into the net from close range! But the referee blows up for handball! The cross was brought down by Havertz, who was challenging for the ball with Cash. It hit his hand before sitting up for Nketiah, who poked home. VAR will double-check, though.
88 min: Carlos is booked for swinging an arm into Nketiah’s startled coupon. VAR checks to see if an upgrade to red is in order, but the on-field decision stands.
86 min: Dendoncker shovels a pass down the right and nearly releases Watkins, but Saliba holds his line confidently to ensure the striker doesn’t take up possession.
85 min: Trossard has taken a whack to the ankle. Cash the culprit on the follow through after a slide tackle. A brief pause as he gets some treatment. “I’m trying to work out how I feel, as a Liverpool fan,” begins Matt Dony. “Should I simply be pleased that Arsenal are losing? Or do I think Villa could genuinely be in for the long-haul, in which case a draw would be the best outcome? Starting to lean towards the latter.”
83 min: Arsenal slip into Patient Probing mode. They’re going nowhere fast.
81 min: Jesus is replaced by Nketiah.
79 min: Trossard drives in from the left, then Odegaard nearly releases Jesus down the middle with a first-time flick. Moreno, fresh out of the box, comes across to intercept. Had he not read the play, Jesus was clear on goal.
78 min: Digne is swapped out for Moreno. That’s Villa’s last change.
77 min: Cash nicks the ball off Rice’s toe. Rice sticks out a leg to stop Cash making off with it upfield. Into the book he goes.
76 min: The corner’s whipped towards the near post. Gabriel heads clear. Villa come back at Arsenal through Cash, who sends a speculative daisy-cutter wide right from the best part of 30 yards.
75 min: Ramsey probes down the left again. This time he wins a corner off Rice. Luiz comes across to take.
74 min: Watkins and Ramsey take turns to win throws down the left flank. Villa don’t rush to take them. A 15th home league win in a row is within sight now.
72 min: Dendoncker has the opportunity to set Diaby free down the middle, but clanks a poor pass into the nearest defender. McGinn, frustrated, then lunges at Odegaard in an overly ambitious attempt to win the ball back. He goes into the book.
71 min: Rice squirts a witless free kick through the wall. Martinez claims with ease.
70 min: Saka dinks a ball in from the right. Jesus is free on the penalty spot, but can’t control. Villa half clear. Cash then skittles Odegaard just to the left of the D, and is bollocked by his captain McGinn for his error. Before the free kick can be taken, Martinelli makes way for Trossard.
68 min: Diaby makes good down the right and crosses low for Watkins, who flippers a first-time shot straight at Raya.
67 min: VIlla make a double change, replacing Kamara and Konsa with Dendoncker and Cash. “How much of Villa’s relative lack of sharpness in the second half is down to Bailey having been forced off, do you reckon?” wonders Peter Oh. “I wonder if Villa without him is like a Baileys Coffee – without the Baileys. Still strong, but not at the same level of heat.” He’s here all week, ladies and gentlemen. Try the bargain liqueur.
66 min: Saka dribbles his way down the right and out of play for a goal kick. He then batters the ball away in a huff. He’s lucky not to go into the book. The referee in a good mood tonight.
64 min: Konsa sends Diaby barrelling down the right. Diaby has Watkins in the middle, but attempts to catch out Raya at his near post instead. The keeper doesn’t fall for the grift, and saves the surprise shot easily.
63 min: Luiz is booked for nipping at the heel of Saka, and he’ll miss the Brentford game too.
62 min: Arsenal go straight up the other end and find the net at last. But it won’t count. Rice sends a long ball down the middle. Martinez comes miles out of his box but is beaten to the ball by Saka, who rounds him and rolls into the empty net. But he was marginally offside.
61 min: McGinn breaks into space down the middle, barging past Rice and setting Diaby scampering in from the right. Diaby can’t get a shot away, but rolls wide left for Digne, who rasps a shot straight at Raya.
60 min: This is all Arsenal now. Villa can’t get out, and suddenly look knackered to boot, their efforts against Manchester City perhaps catching up with them. “Arsenal are looking utterly unstoppable, but are in fact being stopped,” observes Charles Antaki. “Mostly by terrific defensive work, but also, and more irritatingly, by Emi ‘Antics’ Martinez. Arteta might be hoping that he performs that egregious one from the World Cup and gets sent off.”
58 min: Zinchenko sends Havertz scampering down the left. Havertz cuts back for Odegaard, who scuffs a shot from the penalty shot wide right. Had that been on target, Martinez wasn’t getting to it.
57 min: Saka whips the corner to the near post. Martinez flaps, the ball rebounding off the back of Watkins, then off the post! Carlos manages to clear before anyone in neon yellow can poke home. Arsenal are getting closer and closer.
56 min: White wins a corner down the right. Before Arsenal can take it, Villa swap out Tielemans for Ramsey.
55 min: Kamara is stripped of possession easily, just outside his own box. He’s very fortunate the ball breaks back to Martinez instead of setting up Martinelli.
54 min: Nothing comes of the resulting free kick.
53 min: Saka spins Digne down the right with grace. Digne is forced to hold onto his shirt for dear life. He’s booked and will miss the game against Brentford.
51 min: The pace suddenly drops. This match hasn’t quite caught fire since the early promise of the fast, end-to-end start.
49 min: Martinelli is down, Konsa having accidentally trod on his foot. A brief pause. The Arsenal man is back up quickly enough.
48 min: Now Jesus tears after a defence-splitting pass down the middle. Martinez comes to the edge of his box to smother. Arsenal have come back out on the front foot.
47 min: Luiz certainly touched Jesus’s heel. But VAR doesn’t deem the contact to have initiated the fall. No penalty. Nobody knows anything these days.
46 min: Zinchenko sprays a pass down the left to release Martinelli, whose low cutback is hacked clear. Arsenal come again, Jesus working his way into the box from the left before going over in the environs of Luiz. Arsenal want a penalty. VAR will take a look.
Villa get the second half underway. Diaby has replaced Bailey, who picked up a knock when challenging Havertz late in the first half.
Villa started fast; Arsenal have been the better team since conceding early. But as things stand, Villa will close the gap on the top two. Title bid on!
45 min+1: Arsenal deal with it. The first of two additional minutes flies by.
45 min: McGinn dribbles dangerously down the inside-right channel. He flicks wide to Bailey, whose cross is headed clear by Saliba under pressure from Watkins. Villa come again, though, pressing as Arsenal prepare to play out from the back. Saliba turns and plays a blind backpass out for a corner.
44 min: This one flies straight down Martinez’s throat. The wily keeper goes down and takes a while to get back up. He knows Villa could do with hearing the half-time whistle.
43 min: Saka sends the resulting corner in from the right. Havertz competes at the near post with Watkins, who turns the ball behind for a repeat. Saka to take again.
42 min: Jesus steams down the left and cuts into the box, unleashing a rasper that Martinez does well to parry. Digne is on had to whip clear with Martinelli lurking.
40 min: Up the other end, Tielemans slips Watkins clear down the inside-right channel. Watkins can’t force the ball past Raya, who spreads himself well. The flag goes up for offside, though had Watkins scored, VAR might have drawn a line in Villa’s favour there. It was extremely close.
39 min: The keeper’s the hero here, though. Konsa is easily dispossessed out on the Arsenal left by Havertz. The ball’s worked infield, and Jesus tees up Odegaard on the edge of the box. Odegaard takes a touch to the left and aims a fizzer towards the bottom left. Martinez does exceptionally well to get down and claim. For a split second, Odegaard’s eyes lit up.
38 min: Martinez is very nearly closed down by Jesus on the edge of his own box. An unnecessary chance taken.
36 min: A ball looped down the Arsenal left. Martinez comes out to claim, but never looks like getting there before Martinelli, who wedges the ball over the keeper and towards the unguarded net. Carlos comes across to hook clear. Martinelli was probably offside, though it was close. Seeing VAR didn’t need to get involved, we’ll never know for sure.
35 min: McGinn tries to take a quick free kick, only for the nearby Rice to block it. Given what happened to Jordan Ayew at Selhurst Park earlier today, the Arsenal midfielder can count himself fairly fortunate not to go into the book.
34 min: White does extremely well to retrieve Saka’s overhit pass down the right. The ball’s shuttled back to Odegaard, who drags a low shot inches wide of the right-hand post. Martinez had it covered.