LONDON (AFP) – Mikel Arteta admitted Arsenal were unrecognisable from the side that has made plenty of progress in his first year in charge as Aston Villa stormed to a comprehensive 3-0 win at the Emirates early yesterday.
Bukayo Saka’s own goal and a double from Ollie Watkins took Villa up to sixth, just three points off the top of the table with a game in hand.
Arsenal had beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in 14 years last weekend in what appeared to be the latest sign the Gunners are heading in the right direction under Arteta.
But the Spaniard suffered the joint heaviest defeat of his managerial career in a chastening evening for the hosts, who were second best from start to finish.
A second consecutive home defeat for Arsenal sees them slip to 11th, four points off their major target for the season of a top-four finish.
“We performed below our standards and I have to say it’s the first time I’ve seen us play and we weren’t a team,” said Arteta.
“We lost all the races, the duels and we were sloppy on the ball.
“It is a frustration. It takes a lot to build momentum, to build a way of being, living and performing and when something like that comes up it’s a hard one to take.”
Villa thought they had taken the lead inside the first minute when John McGinn rifled into the roof of the net from Jack Grealish’s pass.
However, after a video assistant referee (VAR) review lasting over four minutes, the goal was ruled out for Ross Barkley in an offside position standing in front of Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno being ruled to be interfering with play.
Villa had lost their last two matches after a stunning start to the season that included a 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool a month ago.
But Dean Smith’s side did not look like a team lacking confidence as Arsenal struggled to cope with the movement of Grealish, Barkley and Watkins.
“We’re a threat with them in the team. They’re all blossoming really well but there’s more to come from them,” said Smith.
Barkley’s pass freed Matt Targett down the left and his cross was turned into his own net by Saka as he desperately tried to stop Trezeguet from applying the final touch.
Alexandre Lacazette wasted Arsenal’s best chance to get back into the game when he wastefully headed over Kieran Tierney’s cross just before half-time.
There was a further blow to the hosts at the break as GBP45 million new signing Thomas Partey had to be replaced by Ceballos due to a thigh injury.
Villa remained the bigger threat in the second-half as Leno was forced into saves by Trezeguet and Grealish.
The visitors finally killed the game off as a contest 18 minutes from time when Watkins – who scored a hat-trick in the famous win over Liverpool – headed home Barkley’s excellent volleyed cross.
Ceballos saved Arsenal moments later with a goal-line clearance when Grealish seemed set to get the goal his performance deserved. A brilliant counter-attack then did give the scoreline the reflection Villa deserved as Grealish drove forward before feeding Watkins to fire past Leno.
“You’ve seen tonight and against Liverpool, we’re a great side and we can beat anyone,” said Watkins.