An early goal from Ollie Watkins helped Aston Villa beat a sloppy Arsenal 1-0 on Saturday to move up to eighth in the Premier League standings, consigning the visitors to a second defeat in as many games.
While Villa leapfrogged struggling Tottenham Hotspur, the result left Arsenal 10th on 31 points after a midweek loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers, two points behind their north London rivals having played two games more.
“It’s a big result. We’ve played some good stuff but not got the results so delighted today. We had to grind it out and that’s what it’s all about,” Watkins told BT Sport. It was the 25-year-old’s 10th goal of the season.
Villa took the lead after 74 seconds when Bertrand Traore pounced on a loose back pass by full back Cedric Soares and cut the ball back to Ollie Watkins, whose first time effort was deflected past Arsenal’s debutant goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
Arsenal’s best chance to equalise came from a Granit Xhaka free kick which looked destined for the top corner until the Gunner’s former keeper Emiliano Martinez at full stretch pushed it around the post with a fingertip save.
Mikel Arteta introduced Martin Odegaard for Cedric but though the visitors had plenty of promising attacks in the second half, they failed to find the final pass or cross to test Martinez again.
Bukayo Saka’s move from midfield to left back provided Arsenal with a left-footed presence on the flank, and he nearly assisted Odegaard for his first goal for the club. But the Norwegian skied it over the crossbar.
Ryan was also kept busy with Watkins, Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley regularly testing the Australian, who made six saves.
“The values of being a good team, the work ethic… I thought we saw that in bundles today against a really good offensive team,” Villa manager Dean Smith said.
“We started with a good intensity that set us up really well. It had to be a good defensive performance but their keeper had to make some really good saves as well.”