Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s stunning free-kick helped 10-man Arsenal come from behind to beat Aston Villa in a pulsating encounter at Emirates Stadium.
Aubameyang curled home his seventh goal of the season with six minutes remaining to complete a remarkable turnaround for the Gunners, who had Ainsley Maitland-Niles sent off after 41 minutes.
John McGinn flicked home Anwar El Ghazi’s cross to put Villa ahead after 20 minutes before Maitland-Niles was shown a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Neil Taylor.
Arsenal levelled early in the second period thanks to Nicolas Pepe’s first goal for the club from the penalty spot only for Wesley to restore Villa’s lead from Jack Grealish’s low cross less than two minutes later.
But in a thrilling conclusion, substitute Calum Chambers’ close-range finish brought the Gunners level on 81 minutes before Aubameyang’s late strike secured their third Premier League win of the season to lift Unai Emery’s side back into the top four.
The result was harsh on Villa, who impressed for long periods but paid the price for dropping far too deep in the closing stages and inviting Arsenal pressure. A fourth defeat from six league games means they remain in the bottom three.
Thrilling finish masks Arsenal’s defensive shortcomings
After opting for a mix of youth and experience for Thursday’s Europa League win at Eintracht Frankfurt, Emery recalled the bulk of his senior stars for the meeting with Villa.
That meant the Spaniard went with the same back four that lost a two-goal lead at Watford last weekend, and another shaky performance here means they have still not kept a clean sheet in the league since the opening day of the season, conceding 10 goals in five games.
The defensive problems ultimately did not cost them the result against Villa, but Emery cannot rely on his attacking players to bail out his team all the time if they are to make a sustained challenge for the top four.
A lack of urgency and desire to close the Villa players down led to the opening goal, with El Ghazi given plenty of time to cross for McGinn, who found himself completely unmarked after ghosting ahead of Matteo Guendouzi.
Guendouzi summed up Arsenal’s performance, he was often sloppy in possession and his failure to track McGinn led to the first goal, but he led by example in the closing stages with a series of driving runs into the penalty area.
One of those runs resulted in a sloppy tackle from Bjorn Engels, allowing Pepe to equalise from the spot early in the second half.
After Arsenal went behind again Guendouzi drew a fine save from Tom Heaton, who pushed his low drive from the edge of the box on to the post.
With Villa seemingly unable to get out of their final third, Arsenal’s pressure finally told.
A mistake by Tyone Mings allowed Chambers, brought on in response to Maitland-Niles’ dismissal, to stab a looping effort beyond Heaton.
Then, after Aubameyang was brought down just outside the area, the Gabon striker curled beyond an unmoved Heaton to send the Emirates crowd, who were frustrated for much of the afternoon, into raptures.
Villa left to rue late collapse
While Arsenal went into the game with concerns about their defence, Aston Villa had worries about their attack after failing to score in each of their last two matches.
They looked much more potent here, but were left to rue defensive mistakes that led to all three Arsenal goals.
Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet, playing either side of striker Wesley, found plenty of space on the flanks, with Arsenal full-backs Maitland-Niles and Saed Kolasinac regularly exposed.
Egypt international winger Trezeguet, back in the side after a one-match ban, set up McGinn for an early effort on target while it was El Ghazi’s delivery from the other flank that led the opening goal.
After Pepe’s penalty brought Arsenal level, Villa showed great spirit to immediately go up the other end to re-take the lead thanks to some fine work by Grealish down the left and a smart finish by Wesley, his second goal for Villa since joining from Club Brugge in the summer.
With Arsenal pushing forward, Villa nearly caught them on the counter when Trezeguet was played in the right-hand side of the area, but he could only fire straight at Leno.
Four minutes later, Villa manager Dean Smith replaced Trezeguet with the more defensively minded Ahmed El Mohamady in an attempt to shore things up, but that only served to invite Arsenal pressure.
Mings, whose form this season saw him called up to the England squad, was punished for a poor header on the edge of his six yard box for Chambers’ equaliser.
His defensive partner Engels, whose foul also led to Arsenal’s penalty, then hacked down Aubameyang right on the edge of the penalty area, with the Gunners forward converting the free-kick to condemn Villa to defeat.
Man of the match – Matteo Guendouzi
The team spirit was amazing – what they said
Arsenal boss Unai Emery, speaking to BBC MOTD: “In 90 minutes a lot of things happened. When it was 11 v 11 we didn’t control the match how we wanted because we lost a lot of balls in the middle and gave them chances in the transition. When we could attack and get the ball in the box we weren’t bad really and we were also creating chances to score.
“After the goal we could be calm and improve and the red card changed the idea. For the second half we needed to play first with the head but also with our heart. We needed supporters pushing us and us to take some risks. The team spirit was amazing, we need to continue working and improving things.
“Aston Villa is a good team and an organised team. After this I hope we can improve and be strong. Together with the supporters we will be strong for the matches and hopefully improve.
“It is our challenge to improve defensively. They didn’t have a lot of chances to score.”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith, speaking to BBC MOTD: “I am bitterly disappointed. We lost our structure for periods in the second half. First half we were on the front foot and looked solid. It is always going to be a tough game but we will never get a better chance to win.
“The game became too open with them at 10 men. We lost our fearlessness but for some reason we retracted second half and put us under pressure. We scored again and had a good five minute spell but retracted again. The players lost a bit of belief and that is what disappointed me the most.
“You look at the goals we conceded and they are sloppy. We concede a penalty and give a free-kick away. Second goal, Tyrone Mings has cushioned a header to Neil Taylor and should have put it out for a corner.
“I thought it was penalty [for handball against Sokratis]. He leant towards the ball, which was going towards the goal. It has hit his arm so I don’t know why it wasn’t. But if you’re asking about handballs in the box these days, I don’t know and I don’t think anyone knows. We have seen some subjective ones. If they get a good view on the TV screens they need to overrule the on-field referee.”
On his side’s form: “There is no big concern. We have had a real good go. Apart from Man City and Liverpool I don’t fear anyone in this league.”
Villa score first but lose again – best of the stats
- Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa was only the ninth occasion in Premier League history a team has won a match after receiving a red card while losing – three of those wins have been by Arsenal (also v Derby in 1997 and Bolton in 2008).
- Arsenal won a Premier League game they were trailing in at half time for the first time since December 2018 (4-2 v Spurs at the Emirates).
- Aston Villa haven’t won any of their last five Premier League away games when scoring first (D1 L4), suffering defeats in each of their two such games in 2019-20 (1-3 v Spurs and 2-3 v Arsenal).
- Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in their last 10 games against newly-promoted teams in the Premier League (1-0 v Huddersfield in May 2018), including none in their seven such games under Unai Emery.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has 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).
- Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe has converted 10 penalties since the start of last season within the top five European leagues; the joint-most of any player in this period, along with Luka Milivojevic and Fabio Quagliarella.
- Since making his debut for Aston Villa in August 2018, John McGinn has scored nine goals in league competition – no other current player at the club has netted more (Jonathan Kodjia also with nine).
- Bukayo Saka became the third-youngest player on the day of his first Premier League start for Arsenal, with only Cesc Fábregas (17y 104d) and Theo Walcott (17y 212d) doing so at a younger age.
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles has now been sent off twice in the Premier League in 2019; the first Arsenal player to receive multiple red cards in the competition in the same year since Laurent Koscielny in 2013 (also two).
Arsenal host Nottingham Forest in Carabao Cup third round on Tuesday with Aston Villa travelling to Brighton the following day (both 19:45 BST kick-offs).
Villa then return to Premier League action at home to Burnley next Saturday (15:00 BST) with Arsenal taking on Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday 30 September. (20:00 BST).