Unai Emery has become football's great outsider after Aston Villa dent Arsenal's title hopes

John McGinn (L) - Unai Emery has become football's great outsider after Aston Villa dent Arsenal's title bid

The great outsider seems to be the role football has chosen for Unai Emery, whether he likes it or not, and this remarkable manager left Villa Park on Saturday evening having defeated the two best sides in English football last season over the course of four explosive days in the title race.

The Aston Villa manager did not hang around to savour the moment, rushing to the tunnel on the final whistle, high-fiving fans as he went and leaving another big opponent to wonder what might have been. After victory over the champions Manchester City on Thursday, this was a win over the team that ran them closest last season, and all of it conjured up in a remarkable 13 months of Emery at Villa.

Unai Emery - Unai Emery has become football's great outsider after Aston Villa dent Arsenal's title bid
Unai Emery's side secured their 15th consecutive home win in the Premier League - PA/Nick Potts

It certainly seems that Emery suits clubs on the outside of the established elite, even if in his time he has managed a couple inside the circle. Does it matter to him that this was the club that had sacked him little more than four years ago? His matchwinner John McGinn would say later that Emery reminded his players pre-match that Arsenal were the last team to win a league game at Villa Park, way back in February.

“That game certainly stung him personally,” McGinn said. “So today was a little bit of revenge.” Emery, naturally, would later deny that his history with Arsenal had any bearing on the day and how he felt about it - although by then we all knew differently.

John McGinn scores
McGinn takes a touch to spin on to his left to score - Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Image

This was not the first time Emery has beaten Arsenal since he was jettisoned as Arsene Wenger’s successor – but having done so as Villarreal manager this Premier League win demonstrates again what a fine and adaptable coach he is. Villa are on a run of 15 successive wins in the league at home, and in all that time they have only once been behind in a game. Currently up to third place and five points ahead of City with one spot behind them, Villa are making the Premier League interesting.

In the directors’ box serving his touchline ban, Mikel Arteta saw his players fell victim to the hustle that Emery has created in this side. Arteta pushed back on suggestions his players were tired – in that case, he said they could never have played as well as they did. There were some chances too, two of which came down to marginal calls in Villa’s favour from the referee Jarrod Gillett, although Arsenal never quite looked right.

Mikel Arteta (C) - Unai Emery has become football's great outsider after Aston Villa dent Arsenal's title bid
Mikel Arteta (centre) was not impressed after tasting defeat in Birmingham - Getty Images/Jacob King

Arteta would return to those decisions afterwards although he stopped himself from pushing it as far as he has in the past. His staff and players were unhappy with a kick by Douglas Luiz that caught Gabriel Jesus in the Villa box and did not result in a penalty. There was also dispute over a Var check in the 90th minute for a Kai Havertz handball in the moments before substitute Eddie Nketiah speared the ball home.

On that second occasion, the Var, Michael Salisbury, did not send Gillett to a review – which felt like the right decision under the law. What did Arteta think? “Clear and obvious” was his answer, upon which he would not elaborate although the sense of it seemed to be that Arteta, once again, did not agree with either of the decisions.

Villa had taken the lead with a sumptuous passing goal on seven minutes, that started at the feet of Emi Martinez and went all the way up the pitch from left to right and then on to that redoubtable Scot in midfield McGinn. Emery would later say that this was a different kind of win to that mid-week victory over City that had seen his team control possession much better.

“They were two different matches,” he said “[Against City] we were in control of the game. We were controlling with the high press and the mid-block and avoiding them keeping ball possession. We were full of energy. This time we started very well and the first 15 minutes were the same as Wednesday but after we scored we felt a little bit tired.”

Emery’s players had to accept a greater degree of risk as Arsenal came in search of the equaliser, but they handled it well and there was clearly something not right about Arteta’s team either.

A strange evening for Arsenal who seemed unable to get a full grip on the rambunctious home team. By his high standards, Bukayo Saka was quiet, and so too Gabriel Martinelli on the other wing. Martin Odegaard missed chances. Sometimes it felt like Arsenal needed to be in complete control to win this game – and they never were. Villa created chances too, even as their control of possession ebbed.

Martin Odegaard shoots
Martinez saves from Odegaard who had three of Arsenal's best chances - TIM KEETON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“We had two or three open goals almost that we couldn’t manage to score,” Arteta said. “There’s not much more that we could have demanded from the players than what we got.” Later he would mention the weather too. “It was a bit windy so you see a lot of misplaced balls, not having the right touch and not having the right accuracy in certain passes … I don’t know.”

Jesus was complaining to the fourth official as he came off – presumably with the penalty still in mind. This time his manager decided against continuing the argument.

Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0: as it happened

08:06 PM GMT

Mikel Arteta deploys circumspection

A really good performance. We were the better team and didn’t deserve to lose the game. But this is football.

[Was Havertz’s handball call justified?] I prefer not to comment.

[Should Gabriel Jesus have had a penalty?] I think that’s even clearer.

[Do you have an opinion?] I do. A big opinion. Yes.

[And that’s as far as he will go].

07:47 PM GMT

John McGinn speaks

It wasn’t out best but it was all about character and grit in the second half. Arsenal have made a habit of scoring late goals and it was up to us to be strong. It’s been a monumental week for us.

Two clean sheets against the best two teams in a week.

We had the best of the first 20 minutes and I don’t know what happened after that. [Arsenal]  had a lot of the ball but not too many clear-cut chances.

The defence make our job a lot easier.  The manager is really intense but we have a couple of days off now and without that we would be knackered. He has attention to detail and real passion and ambition for this football club. He is really respectful and makes us [remember to be] humble. He wants to take this to the next level.

It’s a great place to play football when the fans are behind you and a hard place for teams to come. Long may it continue.

I’m banning the T word [title]. It’s game week 16 and we’re the newbies. We respect everyone round about us who have been in these positions for years.

They’re so experienced. Can we keep it up? I don’t know.

07:37 PM GMT

Are Villa title material?

Jamie Redknapp thinks not ... yet. But if they can keep this home run going they can certainly have a tilt at it. What we are sure of is a proper title race not just one club wilting under City’s post Christmas relentlessness. And if Arsenal, Liverpool and Villa all keep pace, it makes it all the harder for City this year.

07:31 PM GMT

Diego Carlos was named man of the match

Villa fans seem to be singing Sweet Caroline. Oh dear. I suppose they get a pass for their tribal twist on Neil Diamond’s words.

07:29 PM GMT

Full time: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

They’ve beaten the champions and the runners-up in the space of four days. Villa close to within a point of Arsenal.

One-nil to the Villa twice in a week and that makes it 15 successive home victories.

Cue Jeff Beck and Hi Ho Silver Lining.

07:27 PM GMT

90+8 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Nketiah balloons a header over but was offside anyway, caught in Villa’s trap again. Like moths to a flame.

07:26 PM GMT

90+7 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Havertz barges into Martinez who goes head to head with him when he stands up. Villa Park wants Havertz’s hide but the referee defuses the situation.

07:24 PM GMT

90+6 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Trossard has the ball in the Villa box, back to goal but loses it. There were supposed to be five minutes of stoppage time but that was before the VAR check and Martinez’s injury.

07:23 PM GMT

90+4 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

McGinn, Ramsey and Dendoncker are stymied by Saliba and Gabriel as they broke down the right and tried to thread crosses and shots between the Arsenal defence.

07:22 PM GMT

90+2 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Nelson ⇢ Zinchenko while play is stopped to treat Martinez’s cut near his eye. He was caught by Cash’s boot as they scrambled to try to keep Havertz out.

07:20 PM GMT

No goal

The ball seemed to hit Havertz in the armpit and then bounce off Cash at the far post on to the back of Havertz’s hand before Nketiah poked the ball into the goal.

Tight call but the right one, I think, by the letter of the law. But, as we all know, the law’s an ass.

07:18 PM GMT

VAR check on an Arsenal 'equaliser'

The referee thinks it came off Havertz’s arm.

07:17 PM GMT

89 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Arsenal’s desperation has ruined the precision of their passing as Villa dig in and make a very compact bloc.

07:16 PM GMT

87 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

As Jamie Carragher points out Martinelli’s withdrawal has robbed Arsenal of pace down the left where they were enjoying their forays for about 50 minutes.

Nketiah hits the deck after being caught by Diego Carlos’s arm on halfway. VAR check and the yellow card stands.

07:12 PM GMT

84 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Zinchenko wears a clearance in the face and the ref stops play to make sure he’s all right. Which he is ...

07:10 PM GMT

83 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Time for a change up front for Arteta: Nketiah ⇢ Gabriel Jesus.

07:09 PM GMT

82 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Trossard picks off a pass intended for Cash down the Arsenal left and hares forward before slipping it inside to Havertz. Gabriel Jesus makes the run and Havertz plays the pass that would have put him clean through but he seemed to hesitate or lack the acceleration and Moreno comes round on the cover to sweep up.

07:07 PM GMT

80 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

A minor point but I don’t think the wind is helping either team here. It’s very blustery inside Villa Park. Must be hard to judge those balls in behind that Arsenal are playing

07:06 PM GMT

78 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Rice trips Cash and before the free-kick can be taken, Villa make their last change: Alex MorenoDigne.

07:05 PM GMT

77 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Douglas Luiz whips the corner to the near post and Arsenal clear to 30 yards. Cash pounces to sweep a raking shot wide of the right post.

07:04 PM GMT

75 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Villa’s changes have relieved the siege of the first 25 minutes or so of the second half. Now it’s Arsenal who are misplacing passes and being forced deep. Rice has no option but to turn the ball behind for a corner as Digne and Watkins tram up.

07:02 PM GMT

74 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Booking for McGinn for a foul on Odegaad, lancing out his leg over the ball to kick him on the boot. A minute earlier Dendoncker had a rare opportunity to slide Diaby in behind but his pass was rancid.

07:00 PM GMT

73 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

The free-kick, left of centre, is taken by Rice and he forces his shot through the wall but the deflection takes all the menace out of it.

06:59 PM GMT

71 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Arsenal free-kick 20 yards out to the left of the D but they could have been level had Gabriel Jesus’ control been reliable. Instead he bungled the pass.

Trossard ⇢ Martinelli.

06:57 PM GMT

69 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Diaby races on to a ball over the top and Gabriel hands over to Saliba in the chase. Diaby stops, picks up his head and squares it to Watkins about 18 yards out. Watkins wraps his right instep around it and shoots. Raya dives to his right to parry the shot and scramble it away.

06:54 PM GMT

67 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Villa make two more changes:

Dendoncker ⇢ Kamara

Cash ⇢ Konsa.

06:52 PM GMT

65 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Douglas Luiz is booked for a foul on Saka and earns a yellow card that triggers an automatic one-match ban. Still no changes for Arsenal as Villa prepare to make a third and fourth.

06:51 PM GMT

63 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Saka gallops 40 yards to get to a ball over the top, rounds Martinelli and slots the ball into the goal but was six inches offside. This Villa offside trap is a precision instrument so far.

06:50 PM GMT

61 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

But now they do and work an opening for Digne to shoot from the left of the box after a quick break from Diaby but he fires it straight at Raya’s legs.

06:49 PM GMT

59 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

What a miss from Odegaard!

Martinelli is played in behind Konsa and whips over a cross that hits Diego Carlos’ leg and sits up for Odegaard 10 yards out but he drags his left-foot shot wide. Having timed his run to perfection that was a hell of a miss.

Odegaard shoots and misses
Odegaard drags his shot wide - AP Photo/Rui Vieira

Villa look knackered and can’t get out of their half for any concerted spells.

06:46 PM GMT

57 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Nearly for Arsenal. Martinez flaps at the corner and slaps it into the back of Watkins a couple of yards out. The ball spins back towards goal and both Diego Carlos and Saliba swing their legs at it, Diego Carlos getting there first.

06:44 PM GMT

55 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Second Villa sub before Arsenal take their corner: Ramsey ⇢Tielemans.

06:43 PM GMT

53 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Arsenal free-kick on the right parallel with the six-yard line after Digne’s foul on Saka, a fistful of shirt to slow him down, that earned him a booking. Arsenal take it short, Saka to Odegaard, with all the tall defenders up and they waste it with a shot that had about a one in 20 chance of finding a way through a congested area.

06:41 PM GMT

51 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Neat move from Odegaard to win the ball just inside his own half and transfer it to Havertz with a diagonal pass. The Germany attacking midfielder attempts to bend it beyond Konsa for Martinelli but the makeshift right-back is wise to it and gets a tow in to stop Martinelli going clean through into the bbox.

06:38 PM GMT

49 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Martinelli is hurt after Konsa steps on top of his right foot. The referee didn’t award a free-kick but lets him receive some treatment when the ball goes out of play.

06:36 PM GMT

48 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Martinez races out to his 18-yard line to slide and smother a pass threaded through the middle for Gabriel Jesus’s run.

06:36 PM GMT

VAR check for an Arsenal penalty

Gabriel Jesus is kicked when he trapped the ball in the box with his leg off the ground. Douglas Luiz booted him on the heel.

But VAR says there was no need for the referee to take a second look.

06:34 PM GMT

46 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Villa make one change, Diaby ⇢ Bailey.

06:34 PM GMT

Looks like Leon Bailey cannot continue

Leon Bailey
Bailey was limping for the last few minutes of the first half - Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

06:23 PM GMT

Sam Dean has a different view

Villa are winning the battles in midfield but they are also vulnerable. It feels like a matter of time before Arsenal convert one of these openings.

06:21 PM GMT

Half-time: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Clinical from Aston Villa to take the lead and they have looked very good on the counter while ensnaring Arsenal half a dozen times in their offside trap. But Arsenal will take comfort from the number of times they have won back possession and the half-chances they have created from out wide when they have manged to get in behind.

06:18 PM GMT

45+1 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Villa catch Martinelli in their offside trap a yard or so inside their half. The linesman lets play continue until Martinelli’s cross is half-blocked by Konsa and the ball loops across the box.

06:16 PM GMT

44 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Gabriel Jesus hares down the left and smokes a fiery daisy-cutter of a shot that Martinez beats away and Digne bundles behind before Martinelli can bounce. Villa defend two disappointing corners solidly, Martinez, the king of time eating, going down after the second one to take a breather.

06:14 PM GMT

42 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Fine pass from Tielemans puts Watkins one on one with the keeper to shoot. Raya gets down well to block and the flag goes up. The replays suggests he was onside though and had he scored VAR might have overturned the call.

06:11 PM GMT

40 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Big chance for Odegaard after fine work from Havertz down the left. Having driven between Konsa and Diogo Carlos he tees up his captain via Gabriel Jesus about 16 yards out. Odegaard takes it on his left, given space by Torres standing off and tries to bend it into the bottom left corner. He rather telegraphed it though and Martinez anticipated/gambled and went early to dive and smother.

Martinez saves Odegaard's shot
Martinez thwarts Odegaard - TIM KEETON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Odegaard pulls up his shirt
Odegaard flaps his shirt in frustration - James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

06:09 PM GMT

38 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Now they get in behind with a chip from Havertz, I think, out to Martinelli on the e]left. Martinez tries to come out and get there first but Martinelli. who may have been offside, bypasses him with a flick over his head that floats towards goal until Diego Carlos hares back to hook it away.

Gabriel Jesus picks it up at the edge of the area and twists to avoid one challenge then spins to evade another but cannot stay on his feet after the third.

06:06 PM GMT

36 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Surprised by how much ball Arsenal are winning in midfield off Kamara and Douglas Luiz and also surprised by how little they’re making of it.

06:05 PM GMT

34 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

White and Saka give Digne another ragging down the Arsenal right but when Saka cuts the ball back to Odegaard by the right of the D, the Gunners’ Norwegian captain harpoons a left-foot shot into the side netting.

06:03 PM GMT

32 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Rice wins the ball 30 yards out with a tackle on McGinn and then he passes to Saka who can’t find the angle to shoot on goal. The ball rebounds back but Watkins makes a mess of his control and Arsenal rip it off him and come again through Odegaard who slips the ball to Saka again. This time he cuts in on to his left and bends the ball around Pau Torres but straight down Martinez’s throat.

06:01 PM GMT

30 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Watkins keeps peeling off to the left when Villa have the ball deep and they work it across the back four via Martinez to Digne to pick him out with a pass up the line. McGinn cuts inside to fill the gap when they work the move.

05:59 PM GMT

28 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Yellow card for Zinchenko for grabbing Tielemans’ shirt after being rolled on halfway.

05:57 PM GMT

26 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Gabriel Jesus is penalised for a shove on Digne when they went up for a header on halfway. Arsenal are confident of getting Saka in behind Digne consistently and have already done it a couple of times to back up their analysis.

05:55 PM GMT

24 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Lovely pass from Gabriel Jesus puts Saka in behind on the right and he cuts it back, aiming for Havertz by the penalty spot. Diego Carlos sticks out a leg and hooks it clear. Excellent run by Saka which, I think, kept him onside.

05:54 PM GMT

22 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Villa free-kick 22 yards out, right of centre after Havertz yanks Tielemans’ shirt in fear of him breaking into the box ane being unable to catch him lawfully.

Digne takes and bends it straight into the wall. Douglas Luiz snatches at the rebound and Arsenal half clear. Villa chip the ball back long and it only just eludes Watkins after bouncing in the area.

05:52 PM GMT

19 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Where Arsenal have been good is winning the ball in midfield, turning it over to get on the front foot ... but they haven’t done enough with it once it has been won.

McGinn scores
McGinn scores - REUTERS/David Klein

05:49 PM GMT

18 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Villa are not pressing Arsenal’s back four at the moment when they are high up but maintain a very compact square and basically challenge Arsenal to find some space all the while operating an offside trap to squeeze the space even more.

05:48 PM GMT

15 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Havertz wins the ball off Kamara in midfield, 40 yards out as the went for a knee high bouncing ball studs first and knocks it away. He dribbles 15 yards then shifts it to his right to Saka who checks back on to his left and fires his shot straight into Diego Carlos’s shins. Kamara is down and complaining he was fouled. He was caught after Havertz won the ball in the followthrough but it wasn’t a foul.

05:45 PM GMT

13 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

I wonder if Villa are one of the few teams where you need an orthodox left-back against Bailey, rather than an auxiliary, play-making midfielder. Arsenal, as befits their status this past 12 months, are not panicking and try to pop the bll around.

05:42 PM GMT

10 min: Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Jamie Carragher believes Zinchenko was caught out of position and neither Gabriel to Bailey or White on McGinn were tight enough.

That’s the sort of goal that Mikel Arteta coaches his team to score. Brilliant from Villa, working it around the Arsenal forwards and then through the midfielders. Quick, incisive passing and then great execution in the final third.

05:38 PM GMT


Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0 (McGinn)  Superb from Bailey who drives down the right and, with Zinchenko tucking in, he takes on Gabriel who tries to jockey him but doesn’t close the distance sufficiently and it lets him cut it back to McGinn eight yards out. The Villa captain takes a touch, spins to face goal and thumps in a left-foot shot.

Aston Villa's John McGinn celebrates scoring their first goal with Leon Bailey
Bailey provides and McGinn delivers - Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

05:37 PM GMT

7 min: Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Big chance for Arsenal after Digne goes for a nap and Havertz is picked out with a driven diagonal that he then centres to the back post and Saka meets with his right-foot swinger and can’t get it on traget.

05:36 PM GMT

5 min: Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Watkins attacks from the left and cuts in on his right but shoots straight into Saliba. The ball rebounds back to the centre-forward who has McGinn and Digne, one on the underlap, one on the over, but decides to cut back and cross himself. Gabriel heads it clear.

05:34 PM GMT

3 min: Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Raya comes out to catch a long ball pumped up for Watkins and drops it as Watkins backs into him. White clears up and the keeper flashes him an upraised thumb.

05:33 PM GMT

2 min: Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Villa corner after Bailey took on Zinchenko. They surround Raya on the line. Rubbish corner from Bailey and it’s cleared at the front post.

05:31 PM GMT

1 min: Villa 0 Arsenal 0

Arsenal kick off and roll the ball back to Raya who is standing 10 yards outside his box and he chips it up the right. Digne heads it back and switch to the left where Martinelli takes the ball into the box and is stripped of the ball by Kamara.

05:27 PM GMT

Arsenal are wearing their bin man-zebra mash-up kit

Villa are in claret and blue. Out come the teams.

Arsenal's away shirts in the dressing room
Arsenal don their away kit - Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

05:24 PM GMT

Mikel Arteta is serving a one-match touchline ban for accumulating three bookings

Carlos Cueta
Carlos Cueta takes the pre-match warm up and, presumably, Albert Stuivenberg will be the head man in the dug out with his manager in the stand - Nick Potts/PA Wire

05:20 PM GMT

Sky does one of those jump shot manager interview montages

Unai Emery: “We recovered well, good rest. We have to do everything we can on the pitch. They have very good players and management and we have to be very clinical. We will have to do the complete match.”

Mikel Arteta: “[The victory at Luton] was a beautiful moment we had together. Today will be a different match, another big game and we have prepared to win the game.”

05:07 PM GMT

Villa's 14 successive home wins

Is still 10 short of Liverpool’s top-flight record and 11 short of Bradford Park Avenue’s league record from 1926-27

04:53 PM GMT

Everyone's focus is elsewhere

Because ... Bournemouth are trouncing Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford.

04:48 PM GMT

When an irresistible force such as you, Meets an old immovable object like me

Arsenal have the best away record in the Premier League since the start of last season. Villa have won 14 successive games at home. Something has to give, as they say. Arsenal might be excited by the thought of Villa’s high line, although getting behind that line is far easier said than done.

04:40 PM GMT

And now for those of you watching in black and white

Aston Villa  Martínez; Konsa, Diego Carlos, Torres, Digne; Bailey, Kamara, Douglas Luiz, McGinn; Tielemans; Watkins.
Substitutes  Marschall Cash, Alex Moreno, Lenglet, Diaby, Zaniolo, Duran, Dendoncker, Ramsey, Marschall.

Arsenal  Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Rice, Havertz; Saka, Gabriel Jesus, Martinelli. 
Substitutes  Ramsdale, Nketiah, Kiwior, Cedric, Trossard, Jorginho, Nelson, Elneny, Walters. 

Referee Jarred Gillett (Australia).

04:37 PM GMT

Arsenal switch left-backs

04:36 PM GMT

Villa unchanged

04:35 PM GMT

Arsenal to end Villa's run of home victories?

Having a bet on today’s match? First take a look at these free bets and betting offers.

04:32 PM GMT

Preview: Down Emery Lane

Good afternoon and welcome to live coverage of Aston Villa vs Arsenal, third taking on second as they stand at the start of the match, with Unai Emery and Emi Martínez taking on their former club and gunning for a 15th successive home victory. As any fule kno after this week’s previews, Arsenal were the last away side to win at Villa Park but it was a tight-run thing back in February when an own goal from the World Cup-winning keeper and a 98th minute effort from Gabriel Martinelli seized the points.

Emery said that defeat was pivotal in their transformation. “I can come back in my mind and think how we were when we started this process,” he said. “We lost against Leicester and Arsenal at home, 4-2. We couldn’t concede eight goals in two matches at home like we did.

“It was a key moment when we reacted in a meeting with the players, focusing more our idea and our style, building and being very demanding in it. I think the players, they reacted very well and the way we did, we started doing in that moment, I think we are still being very demanding and keeping it.”

“It’s my challenge every day to be better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today,” he said Friday. “I am not going to stop. I have to try to keep balance as well. Against Manchester City we were playing very well, but I want to try to do some steps ahead like we are doing but thinking we have to be in this level, we have to want to be at this level.”

Arsenal arrive at Villa Park after digging out a 4-3 victory at newly promoted Luton Town. Declan Rice’s winner in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time gave the Gunners a dramatic win after both teams took turns holding the lead in the first hour.

While it was far from Arsenal’s best performance of the season, it was a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions under difficult circumstances, and a litmus test for Mikel Arteta of his club’s potential championship mettle after last year’s second-place finish.

“A team has to have an unbelievable desire to win every match and I think we’ve got that and we’ve shown that time and time again,” Arteta said. “We could’ve scored earlier, there were certain moments that we could’ve done better to get the third or the fourth goal but when it’s not the case the team has resources and the skill right now to keep believing and actually doing what the game requires in that moment to win it.”