Unai Emery said Aston Villa must learn to cope with the pressure of being labelled title contenders after Mikel Arteta became the latest manager to endorse their credentials. Three days on from outclassing the reigning champions, Manchester City, Villa beat Arsenal 1-0 to earn a 15th straight home league win to move within two points of the new leaders, Liverpool, and one behind Arsenal, leading their goalscorer and captain, John McGinn, to joke he is banning the “T-word”.
Asked if his players can deal with heightened title talk surrounding Villa, Emery replied: “Yes, it is better for us. We are there because we deserve it. They are going to speak more about us. It is still going to be the same message I am sending them, sending you [the media] and to the supporters. We have to be excited, we have to be motivated. We are now in third but there are still seven teams who are bigger contenders than us to be in the top seven. If we are getting to the 30th or 32nd game of the season, in the same position, I can send another message.”
McGinn said: “I’m banning the T-word. It’s game-week 16, so there’s a long way to go. We respect everyone around us who has been in these positions for years. They are so experienced. We’re newbies, can we keep it up? I don’t know. We’ll see. Hopefully … the targets have been revised … we have to try and improve our away form, which isn’t horrendous but can be improved.”
Arteta, who served a touchline ban, bit his tongue at the officials’ decisions not to award Arsenal a second-half penalty and disallow a 90th-minute equaliser. Arteta was mystified by Jarred Gillett’s decision not to award a penalty two minutes into the second half when Douglas Luiz wiped out Gabriel Jesus after kicking his Brazilian compatriot’s heel inside the box.
The Arsenal manager then could only agonise in the stand as the video assistant referee, Michael Salisbury, reviewed Gillett’s decision to disallow Eddie Nketiah’s 90th-minute goal. Kai Havertz was penalised for handball after challenging Matty Cash to meet Martin Ødegaard’s cross. Arteta said he had “a big opinion” about the penalty claim but refused to expand on this.
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McGinn’s seventh-minute strike was the difference but the former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez made a couple of smart saves and Ødegaard, Arsenal’s captain, was among those to miss key chances. “I think we deserved much more than what we got,” Arteta said. “I haven’t seen a team do what we did to Villa since we won here in February.
“It was not enough to win it because we lacked the accuracy in the opponents’ box to put the ball in the back of the net with the amount of situations that we generated.”