Fourth-placed Arsenal opened up a four-point gap over Manchester United, one place below, in the Premier League standings after Bukayo Saka’s first-half strike earned them a 1-0 victory at Aston Villa on Saturday.
Looking to get back to winning ways following their midweek defeat to Liverpool — their first loss in seven games in all competitions — Arsenal dominated the opening period in the Villa Park sunshine.
Their fine, flowing first-half football deserved more than the one goal given to them by Saka on the half-hour mark — Arsenal’s 2,000th Premier League strike.
Villa did not have a single shot, on or off target, in the first half, but improved after the break, finally having an effort at goal in the 61st minute when Scottish midfielder John McGinn curled just wide.
However, Arsenal remained content to sit on their 1-0 lead until the final whistle, holding on in relative comfort to move on to 54 points, four clear of United in their bid to secure the final Champions League qualification spot.
“It was a big win,” Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta said. “We wanted to come here and keep the momentum going. The team showed a lot of personality today with the way we dominated the game.
“We have 10 games to go. What we did today is not relevant. We have to look to tomorrow and win more games. We are not there yet. We did not get that second goal today.
“The most important thing for me is that there is unity around the club, and a sense of direction.”
With United not in Premier League action this weekend, Arsenal had a real chance to cement fourth spot by securing a fifth away league win in a row in the Midlands –- the first time they have been on such a run since May 2015.
Given how many chances they created in the first half, with Emile Smith Rowe, starting his first game in a month, at the heart of everything, they should really have been out of sight by the break.
Smith Rowe fired over early on from a great position, before he set up Thomas Partey, whose strike was too close to Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Striker Alexandre Lacazette was then impeded by his own man — Smith Rowe again — as he looked set to score but the pressure did eventually tell as Saka swept home his sixth league goal of the season with his left foot.
Still somehow in the contest, Villa did start to pose a threat after the break, with McGinn’s effort causing some jitters in the Gunners’ backline, as Ollie Watkins saw another effort clip the outside of the post and roll wide.
That fifth successive away win never looked in doubt, however, with the final whistle greeted with huge celebrations among fans and Arsenal players as they eye a return to the Champions League next term for the first time since 2016-17.
A second successive defeat for a below-par Villa means they stay ninth.
“No complaints on the scoreline,” coach Steven Gerrard said. “The second half was much more like us, but we did not start the game how we should.
“The run they are on, how much they have improved, Arsenal deserve respect, but if we have ambition, when at home, we have to try and grab these games from teams above us in the league.”
Djokovic Edges Closer To Grand Slam Record With Spot In Last Eight
Hamilton Hails ‘Mega Job’ By Mercedes, Focused On Next Year
Verstappen Wins In Spain To Continue Red Bull Sweep
Benzema Leaves Real Madrid After 14 Years At Club
Milan Say Ibrahimovic Will Not Extend Contract
Tongue Takes Five Wickets As England Crush Ireland
Ten Hag’s United “Broken” After FA Cup Final Loss To Manchester City
Jabeur Upset With Fans Reselling Tickets Due To Women’s Match In Night Session
Mbappe Targets Ligue 1 Scoring Record With PSG Next Season
Swiatek No Fan Of ‘Iga’s Bakery’ Memes After Serving Up Another Double Bagel
Messi To Leave PSG At End Of Season After Two Years At The Club
Man City Edge Closer To Treble After FA Cup Final Win Over Manchester United