Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2
Pepe, 59, pen, Chambers 81, Aubameyang 84, McGinn 20, Wesley 50

Arsenal were reduced to ten men when Ainsley Maitland-Niles was shown a second yellow card for a tackle on Neil Taylor. Aston Villa were leading 1-0 at the time when John McGinn ghosted in past a static Arsenal defence to strike the game’s opener. Villa were worthy of their lead and had chances to extend it, but Bernd Leno and some shaky Gunners’ defending held. Matteo Guendouzi was impeded in the area for Arsenal to get the chance to draw level, and one which record summer signing Nicolas Pepe stepped to to take ,beating Tom Heaton from the penalty spot. Less than two minutes elapsed from the score being level however when Wesley profited from Jack Grealish’s run to put the West Midlanders back in the lead. Arsenal then laid siege to the Villa goal, Guendouzi cracked the post and the Gunners pressure yielded reward when Calum Chambers cleverly chipped Heaton to restore parity on 81 minutes. Arsenal then took the lead for the first time when Aubameyang stepped up to despatch a free-kick past the static Heaton. Villa had late claims for a penalty when the ball brushed Sokratis’ s arm, but play was waived on, and Arsenal clung on for a win that lifts them to fourth spot in the Premier League table. Bukayo Saka was given his first Premier League start on the back of good performance and goal in the Europa League game at Eintracht Frankfurt last Thursday.

But Arsenal cannot keep showing such defensive vulnerability, and Unai Emery has a job in his hands. As with the Europa League win at Eintracht Frankfurt, the Gunners have to urgently remedy their defence and not hope or expect the front line to continuously bail them out. David Luiz and Sokratis have the experience, but it is young legs that will be required moving forward. Rob Holding and Mavrapanos should soon be available to Emery as should Hector Bellerin and summer signing Kieran Tierney. That’s a brand new back four and that has to come into effect as opposition teams have figured out the defensive vulnerabilities of the Gunners to date. We only need to look at the Watford result for proof. And while we’re here, doesn’t Emiliano Martinez warrant more first team games?

Sadly there was no urgency top press  when Anwar El Ghazi’s cross fell invitingly for McGinn to net the game’s opener. An often uninspiring reaction followed and when Maitland-Niles was given his marching orders four minutes before the break, Emery’s half time team talk took on a desperate narrative. There was a second half response with Arsenal now pressing as if they had just realised that they were behind.

Guendouzi is the heartbeat of this team, and that is something that Granit Xhaka can hope to be. He was jeered by sections of the Emirates crowd when replaced by Joe Wilock after 72 minutes. Asked to defend at key moments in the game – Guendouzi is often the deepest defender when Arsenal take corners for example, going the other way, the 19 year old is a revelation. Having struck Heaton’s upright, Guendouzi was felled by Bjorn Engels in the box, allowing Pepe to drive his penalty straight down the middle to beat Heaton and open his Arsenal scoring account.

Parity was short lived when the Gunners’ rearguard backed off as Grealish moved through the gears to enable Wesley to beat Leno. It was a body blow to the Gunners who had to find another response. A more invigorated Arsenal did just that. When Tyrone Mings failed to clear the danger, Chambers was deep over on the right of Villa’s area to angle a clever drive beyond Heaton to make it 2-2. Aubameyang has now scored 16 goals in his last 16 games across all competitions for Arsenal, including in each of the last four games in a row – five goals.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, and charged by the now raucous Emirates crowd, Arsenal went in search of a third.  When Aubameyang was felled by Engels shy of the area, the free kick was fell within his range. Up stepped the Gabon striker to hit a shot which saw Heaton rooted to the spot for Arsenal to take the lead for the first time in the match. The Midlanders pressed for parity, but despite all their efforts, it was Arsenal who prevailed in an Emirates thriller against Villa.