Player Ratings: Solid spine sets Arsenal up for success as intelligent link-ups outdo underwhelming Aston Villa

Bukayo Saka dribbling against Aston Villa

Bukayo Saka scored the only goal of the game as Arsenal earned a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in which their players were largely comfortable.

Arsenal had the better share of the ball early on and took the lead after half an hour. The ball fell to Bukayo Saka on the edge of the box and he finished first time. It gave Arsenal the advantage at the break, with some boos ringing around Villa Park when the whistle blew.

The hosts were more competitive in the second half but still couldn’t test Arsenal too much.

It means Arsenal remain the favourites to finish fourth. They have a four-point cushion over fifth-placed Manchester United and have still played one game fewer.

They were able to get the job done against Villa with minimal fuss thanks to a solid spine and intelligent use of the wide areas.


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Aston Villa

Emiliano Martinez: Made a brilliant reaction save after a deflection off Konsa in the 10th minute. Only saw Saka’s strike for the opener late. 6/10

Matty Cash: Tried to get forward to make use of his crossing ability but didn’t always have space. 6

Ezri Konsa: Quite composed at the back as Villa tried to settle down. 6

Tyrone Mings: Booked for a late challenge on Saka shortly after the first goal that sparked a coming together between the two sets of players. 5

Ashley Young: Replacing left-back Lucas Digne due to the Frenchman’s injury, was targeted by Arsenal at the outset. Didn’t get much help defensively but began to make some blocks and produce more in the opposite direction. 6

John McGinn: Took set-piece responsibilities early on, showing good technique. Sometimes became a bit stretched in the midfield but was generally one of Villa’s more positive players. 7

Douglas Luiz: Sent a free kick wildly over midway through the second half. Fairly quiet otherwise. 6

Jacob Ramsey: Earned the first yellow card of the game for a diving challenge on Smith Rowe. Showed the occasional glimpse of influencing things, but was withdrawn before the final 20 minutes. 6

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Philippe Coutinho: Tried to pick a few passes out but couldn’t quite connect with his teammates. 5

Emi Buendia: Frustrated in the first half after a quiet performance and did little to change things after. 5

Ollie Watkins: Chosen up top instead of last week’s starter Danny Ings, tended to be crowded out. Went the closest Villa had been with a deflected shot in the final 25 minutes. 6

Substitutes:

Bertrand Traore (on for Ramsey, 69 mins): 5

Leon Bailey (on for Buendia, 69): 5

Danny Ings (on for Watkins, 82): N/A


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Arsenal

Bernd Leno: Replacing the injured Aaron Ramsdale for his first league appearance since August, didn’t have a single shot on target to face until the final kick. 6

Cedric Soares: Defended well by standing up to Villa’s forward runners. 7

Ben White: Prevented Villa’s first genuine chance in the 20th minute by reading the flight of the ball well to make a clearance. Produced further pieces of similarly solid defending. 8

Gabriel Magalhaes: Always alert, averting danger with some timely interventions. 8

Kieran Tierney: Put in a tidy performance, playing his part by making blocks, especially when the ball came into the box from different angles. 8

Thomas Partey: Gave away a few fouls in the opposite phase, but was a positive influence in Arsenal’s construction play. Kept things flowing. Man of the match. 8

Granit Xhaka: Kept things ticking over with his passes and dug in to help defensively. Almost let his temper flare at one point but otherwise was more mature. 7

Martin Odegaard: Linked up well with players either side from a central position in an intelligent performance. 7

Bukayo Saka: Gave Arsenal the lead with a finish from outside the box, having been involved plenty up to that point. Drew a few fouls from the opposition and caused problems cutting inside. One hefty challenge seemed to affect his freedom after, as his decision-making also dropped, but he kept going until his substitution. 8

Alexandre Lacazette: Worked hard but most of Arsenal’s attacks came out wide. 6

Emile Smith Rowe: Brought into the starting lineup for the ill Gabriel Martinelli, didn’t get enough power on the first shot of the game. Saw some of the ball as the game went on. 6

Substitutes:

Nicolas Pepe (on for Saka, 69): 6

Eddie Nketiah (on for Lacazette, 78): N/A

Rob Holding (on for Odegaard, 86): N/A

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