Unai Emery 2, Arsenal 0 as former boss schools Arteta's men

Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League / Catherine Ivill - AMA/GettyImages

Late goals from two of Villas star players this season, Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins, saw Villa snatch three more vital points in the race for Champions League qualification

Following last weekends draw at home to Brentford that saw Villa throw away a two goal lead, many pundits and football followers began to write off Villa’s chances of the top four and claimed Spurs were guaranteed that fourth spot. Oh how a weekend can change the complexion of things, ey?

The weekend’s early kick off saw Newcastle host Tottenham and the home sides emphatic 4-0 win saw the door open for Villa to further stake their top four claim on Sunday. This, though, was a huge ask away at league leaders Arsenal who had won 11 of the last 12 since the turn of the year. Enter, Sir Unai Emery.

Leon Bailey, John McGinn, Youri Tielemans
Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

A tactical masterclass saw Villa become the only team this season to do the double over Arsenal, and with a clean sheet on both occasions. The first half saw Arsenal create chances and thanks to Emi Martinez, they were denied. It certainly wasn’t one way traffic however as Villa too had their own opportunities.

Ollie Watkins in particular was hugely unfortunate to see his effort strike the post and race across the front of goal. The midfield area would have been a concern for Villa prior to the game with the absence of the suspended Douglas Luiz and injured Bouba Kamara, but captain McGinn and Youri Tielemans battled and fought well to compete and provide composure when needed. 

With the score 0-0 at half time the pressure was on Arsenal as the home side to come out and take the game to Villa. However, Emery had clearly instructed his team to be braver with the ball and progress up the pitch at a quicker rate. That is what they did.

A dominant second half saw the team come close to breaking the deadlock on numerous occasions and when Youri Tielemans smashed the woodwork with a long range effort from the left hand side it looked like it might be one of those days where the goal just wouldn’t come.

Thankfully with just five minutes to play a Lucas Digne cross was met by supersub Bailey at the backpost to give Villa the lead and send the away end crazy. The noise and “limbs” from the away end, just like the lead, doubled a few moments later as Watkins raced away from Smith-Rowe following a Tielemans ball over the top and dinked it over Raya with supreme confidence.

That’s 19 goals for the season now to tie Christian Benteke’s Premier League club record, all of which have been from open play. Alongside his 10 assists this campaign it is difficult to rule Watkins out from winning the Player of the Season award. 

Ollie Watkins
Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

An outstanding win for Villa who extend their unbeaten run in the capital to 11 games, 8 of those being victories. So, what next?

In terms of the league, in my opinion, two more wins would guarantee Champions League football next season. With Spurs still needing to face Arsenal, Chelsea (away), Liverpool and Manchester City it would be a tough ask for them to pip Villa in the race, especially if Villa can take advantage of the fact they play twice before Spurs’ next game.

They could therefore be 9 points ahead of Spurs before their tough run of fixtures begin. With Manchester United remaining inconsistent in their performances and results it is difficult to see them mount a late surge.

Newcastle have also suddenly become a part of the race for European qualification and have a favourable run of fixtures, but I still suspect they are too far back to challenge for fourth. I think we can all agree however that It would be funny to see them finish ahead of Manchester United?! 

With regards to the Europa Conference League, Villa face a very difficult second leg in Lille this Thursday. They will however be going to France with a slender one goal advantage and full of confidence following the win at the Emirates. Should the team come through this tough test and qualify for the Semi-finals then they will certainly be favourites to go on and win the tournament. 

John McGinn
Aston Villa v Lille OSC: Quarter-final First Leg - UEFA Europa Conference League 2023/24 / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

A European title and a top four finish looks like it could be on the cards and make the dreams of the Villa fans come true. Thanks to Unai Emery and this fantastic squad of players we have every reason to believe in what was unthinkable at the start of the season!