Bukayo Saka’s first half strike saw Arsenal tighten their grip on fourth place in the Premier League with a narrow 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime.
The Gunners forward beat Emiliano Martinez with a sweet effort from the edge of the box on 29 minutes after Villa failed to clear their lines, a goal which proved the difference between the teams and guarantees Arsenal continue to lead the race for the top four.
Mikel Arteta’s side, hungry to satisfy their taste for Champions League football, started brightly and made their dominance count when Saka opened the scoring just shy of the half hour mark, nestling the ball neatly into the bottom corner to give the Gunners the lead at the break.
Villa grew into the second half and went closest with twenty minutes to play when Ollie Watkins struck the post after some nice build-up play. Despite a late flurry of pressure, an equaliser continued to allude them leaving Arsenal to take all three points which preserves their fourth place in the table.
An international break is now upon us but when the teams return to Premier League action at the start of April, they haven’t got far to travel. Both have local derbies to contend with against sticky opposition with Villa heading to Wolves, while Arsenal visit Crystal Palace.
Evolving Arsenal. With every passing game, there is an evolving air of confidence, resilience and swagger about the way Arteta and his side go about their business. You cannot always win playing pretty football, sometimes you must dig deep and find a grittier way to win – a side of Arsenal’s game that is beginning to flourish. They play some attractive, free-flowing stuff but equally, they can do the dirty work that is sometimes required to get you over the line. Villa Park is never an easy place to go, a historic cauldron filled with fantastic supporters and a talented team that will always give you a game. However, Arsenal struck when the iron was hot before proceeding to slam the door in their hosts faces in their own back yard, an act which was nothing short of ruthlessness in pursuit of their goals.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) With another England call-up to his name, Saka showed why both Arteta and Gareth Southgate are right to place their faith in him. The youngster is brimming with confidence and thriving with every opportunity that he gets. Saka was a bright spark from the off and looked to cause problems for Villa whenever the ball came to his feet. He showed great technique for the goal, a cool and calm finish, while seeming to improve with each appearance. He is undoubtedly one of English football’s best hopes for the future. Today’s match-winner confirms his side remain in the driving seat as the race for Champions League football next season intensifies.
Villa: Martinez 7, Cash 6, Konsa 6, Mings 6, Young 6, Luiz 6, McGinn 7, Ramsey 6, Buendia 6, Watkins 6, Coutinho 6.
Subs: Bailey 5, Traore 5, Ings 5.
Arsenal: Leno 7, Cedric 7, White 7, Gabriel 7, Tierney 7, Partey 7, Xhaka 7, Saka 8, Odegaard 7, Smith-Rowe 7, Lacazette 7.
Subs: Holding 5, Pepe 5, Nketiah 5.
29’ GOAL! VILLA 0-1 ARSENAL (SAKA) The deadlock is broken and it is Arsenal who draw first blood! Villa cannot clear their lines, the ball falls for Saka on the edge of the box who shows great technique to get over the strike and nestle the ball into the bottom corner. That has been coming!