Aston Villa 0-1 Arsenal: Bukayo Saka fires in winner to give impressive Gunners another three points

Bukayo Saka secured Arsenal’s fifth consecutive away win to give Arsenal’s Champions League hopes a huge boost at a windy Villa Park.

Saka shot through a crowd of players to take his season’s goal tally into double figures and leave Mikel Arteta’s side four points clear of closest challengers Manchester United in the race for fourth.

In contrast, Villa were disappointing in testing conditions and failed to trouble Gunners stand-in goalkeeper Bernd Leno until injury time despite the German making his first Premier League appearance since August.

Bukayo Saka scored the only goal of the game as Arsenal beat Aston Villa 1-0 on Saturday

Arsenal's Saka (centre) made the breakthrough after half an hour, firing past Emi Martinez

Arsenal’s Saka (centre) made the breakthrough after half an hour, firing past Emi Martinez

The 20-year-old star then tried to attempt a cartwheel in celebration but ended up on his back

The 20-year-old star then tried to attempt a cartwheel in celebration but ended up on his back

Arsenal took to the field without regular No 1 Aaron Ramsdale (hip injury) and Gabriel Martinelli (illness) but it didn’t stop them showing the initiative as Villa started cautiously with Danny Ings on the bench, leaving Ollie Watkins as a lone striker.

Martin Odegaard was heavily involved in the opening 15 minutes, setting up chances for Emile Smith Rowe who blazed over and Alexandre Lacazette whose low shot was saved by former Gunner Emiliano Martinez.

During a round of applause for former Villa striker Andy Lochhead, who died last week, Villa let their guard drop momentarily and Saka nearly caught out Martinez at his near post.

With the visitors confidence high, a flowing move took them into the Villa box with Tyrone Mings finally blocking a Smith Rowe effort. At the other end, Leno was a passenger.

Villa’s first sight of goal took 20 minutes to arrive when Philippe Coutinho fed Ollie Watkins and he was about to shoot from inside the box when Cedric Soares intervened with an excellent recovery tackle.

Emile Smith Rowe (second from left) smashed an early chance over the crossbar for Arsenal

Emile Smith Rowe (second from left) smashed an early chance over the crossbar for Arsenal

There was plenty of applause for former Aston Villa striker Andy Lochhead, who recently died

There was plenty of applause for former Aston Villa striker Andy Lochhead, who recently died

Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings (right) was booked after making a sliding tackle on Saka

Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings (right) was booked after making a sliding tackle on Saka

John McGinn (centre, No 7) was booked for sending Alex Lacazette (left) flying in the aftermath

John McGinn (centre, No 7) was booked for sending Alex Lacazette (left) flying in the aftermath

The scare acted as wake-up call for Arsenal to make their superiority count and they took the lead after half-an-hour.

Cedric’s cross into a crowded penalty area was only half-cleared to Saka on the edge of the box and he drove through a forest of legs and past the unsighted Martinez for his 10th goal of the season.

Saka and his team-mates celebrated in front of the noisy travelling fans but the England winger’s afternoon became more painful after that when he was caught on the ankle in the follow through from a tackle by Tyrone Mings.

Mings was booked by Andrew Madley, the correct decision despite Arsenal players surrounding the referee demanding harsher punishment.

After that, Villa fans made their dissent towards Madley known at every opportunity,  though they were a little appeased when Granit Xhaka was also cautioned for grabbing Emiliano Buendia and then shoving him away.

After a Cedric Soares cross was partially cleared, Saka fired home from the edge of the box

After a Cedric Soares cross was partially cleared, Saka fired home from the edge of the box

Tempers boiled over between the two sides at times during a feisty and competitive first half

Tempers boiled over between the two sides at times during a feisty and competitive first half

The two managers, Villa's Steven Gerrard (right) and Arsenal's Mikel Arteta (left) - who played against each other nine times in the Merseyside derby - exchanged words on the touchline

The two managers, Villa’s Steven Gerrard (right) and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta (left) – who played against each other nine times in the Merseyside derby – exchanged words on the touchline

Referee Andy Madley (above) was a pantomime villain for the Villa fans, who booed him often

Referee Andy Madley (above) was a pantomime villain for the Villa fans, who booed him often

When Matty Cash was rightly penalised for lunging at Kieran Tierney, The Holte End united to sing; ‘You’re not fit to referee’.

Villa tried to begin the second half more positively. Ashley Young, deputising for the injured Lucas Digne, got forward and delivered a couple of teasing crosses that Watkins almost benefited from.

On the hour, Watkins’ work gave John McGinn a shooting chance on the edge of the box that the Scot curled narrowly wide. It was the home side’s first shot on or off target of the afternoon.

Cash won a free-kick on the edge of the Arsenal box when barged over by Thomas Partey, who became the sixth name in Madley’s notebook. 

The free-kick was wasted by Douglas Luiz who shot into row Z, summing up Villa’s overall performance. Watkins had a shot deflected by Smith Rowe onto the outside of the post.

The second half had lots of perspiration but not much inspiration as Arsenal killed the game

The second half had lots of perspiration but not much inspiration as Arsenal killed the game

The cavalry arrived midway through the second half. Saka, less effective after the Mings challenge, was replaced by Nicolas Pepe. Steven Gerrard introduced pace in wide areas, sending on Bertrand Traore and Leon Bailey.

When that didn’t bring quick reward, he played his final card in the final 10 minutes by sending on Ings for Watkins. Right away, Ings showed his striking instinct by finding space in the box and guiding a clever header narrowly over.

Villa used the wind to pen Arsenal back in the closing stages but centre-halves Ben White and Gabriel stood firm as the ball was pinged into the box on a regular basis.

The last equalising chance came with the last kick of the game. Pepe fouled Douglas Luiz and Coutinho’s free-kick was parried away well by the previously inactive Leno. 

The final whistle blew immediately, Leno was mobbed by his team-mates and Arteta came on the pitch to celebrate as if he saw it as a very big result. 

Match Facts: Aston Villa 0-1 Arsenal

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez 7; Cash 6.5, Konsa 7, Mings 6, Young 6; Ramsey 6 (Traore 69, 6), Luiz 5.5, McGinn 6; Buendia 5.5 (Bailey 69, 6), Watkins 7 (Ings 81, 6), Coutinho 6.

Substitutes not used: Olsen; Chambers, Sanson, O’Reilly, Iroegbunam, Chukwuemeka.  

Yellow cards: Ramsey 15, Mings 33, McGinn 34.

Manager: Steven Gerrard.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Leno 6; Cedric Soares 7.5, White 7, Gabriel 7, Tierney 6.5; Partey 7, Xhaka 6.5; Saka 7 (Pepe 69, 5.5), Odegaard 7 (Holding 86), Smith Rowe; Lacazette 6 (Nketiah 77, 6).

Substitutes not used: Okonkwo; Tavares, Swanson, Elneny, Sambi Lokonga, Hutchinson.

Goals: Saka 30.

Yellow cards: Xhaka 45+1, Cedric Soares 57, Partey 65.

Manager: Mikel Arteta.

Referee: Andy Madley 7. 

Want to catch up on all the action as it happened? Read below for live coverage of  the Premier League clash between Aston Villa and and Arsenal from Sportsmail’s Max Mathews, including play-by-play updates and reaction.

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