Tide turning as Arsenal revival gathers steam 

Tide turning as Arsenal revival gathers steam 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang jumps for joy after scoring Arsenal’s second goal.

Arsenal’s season, and their luck, is turning after an exciting performance in a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa was enhanced by a penalty awarded when everyone inside the Emirates Stadium thought the half-time whistle had already gone.

Goals from Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Emile Smith-Rowe gave Mikel Arteta’s side the points on a night when his vision for the future started to really take shape following a difficult opening to the new campaign. It may well prove to be a major turning point for the Gunners, but the game will probably be remembered in the short term for another VAR drama.

Arsenal were already 1-0 up and cruising when Alexandre Lacazette’s claims that he had been fouled in the box by Matt Targett were waved away by referee Craig Pawson- and the kerfuffle had been long forgotten when it seemed like Pawson blew for half-time and players headed for the tunnel.

In fact, he was blowing for a VAR check, eventually awarding a penalty after watching a replay on his monitor.

There were almost comical scenes as Arsenal fans who had rushed to the exits to the join the beer and pie queues legged it back to witness Aubameyang’s effort saved by Martinez – before snaffling up the rebound with his left foot.

The 2-0 lead was thoroughly deserved, and later extended by Smith-Rowe in the second half, but the bizarre nature of its arrival will no doubt be debated long into the night.

The goal means in-form Aubameyang has now scored in his last four Premier League games at the Emirates and has 43 there in all – just three behind record holder Robin van Persie. More importantly, however, it feels like Arsenal are back, with the misery of losing their opening three games this season – and sitting bottom of the table – all but forgotten.

Such was the vibrancy of Arsenal’s display that the result, which takes them up to ninth in the table, only five points adrift of leaders Chelsea and on the same points as Man United, reignites hopes that their young team could build a platform for the future - weeks after Arteta was being tipped for the sack.

Instead, his team delivered an emphatic backing of the Spaniard’s grand plan which he hopes will eventually bring back the excitement of Arsene Wenger’s early years.

All this was achieved, by the way, on Wenger’s 72nd birthday, and if he was watching he would surely be as encouraged as the vociferous crowd which filled the Emirates.

Yes, you read that right. Despite the difficult start, Arsenal’s fans have been louder and more supportive than for many years and if this team begins to really click then that enthusiasm will only build.

Arsenal remain inconsistent, and of course not all the problems have been solved; but the raw ingredients of Arteta’s revolution are now visible – and they look enticing.

The energy, pace and creativity of young players such as Tavares, Tomiyasu, Lokonga, Saka and Smith-Rowe provide a fascinating glimpse of Arsenal’s electric future, and Ben White is starting to grow into his role as a ball-playing, marauding centre-back even if his aerial weaknesses were so brutally highlighted by Brentford on the opening day of the campaign.

Put all those aspects into the mix, season with Pepe, Martinelli and Odegaard from the bench, and Arsenal may well have a recipe for success.

All of Arteta’s decisions worked out well here, with young goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale showing excellent and making some fine saves, although he could do nothing about Jacob Ramsey’s late consolation goal for Villa.

The sight of Lacazette on the team sheet was a welcome one for Arsenal fan, too, and it was fitting that he was involved in the game’s key moment. The Frenchman may be out of contract at the end of the season, and able to talk to foreign clubs in January, but the 30-year-old’s commitment and attitude has been admirable.

Until this match, Lacazette had played just 72 minutes of Premier League football this season, but nevertheless earned the right to play against Villa following a last-minute goal from the bench which rescued a point against Crystal Palace on Monday.

His performance was once again unselfish, sitting behind Aubameyang but working non-stop to provide others with opportunities, linking play, winning back the ball and directing the younger players around him. It was summed up by one first-half vignette when he played an exquisite one-two in a tight space before being brutally hacked down by Tyrone Mings. When the referee failed to give a free-kick, instead of moaning the Frenchman leapt to his feet, still hobbling, and hopped on one leg in a bid to win the ball back.

It was Lacazette who won the crucial penalty, too – getting his toe in just ahead of Targett. Perhaps it was fortunate, but such was Arsenal’s domination that Villa should not complain.

The pace and energy of Arsenal’s attacks, mounted from all areas of the field, shocked the visitors – and Partey had already hit the bar when he headed home from a 23rd minute Smith-Rowe corner.

Saka also wasted an excellent chance, denied by Martinez, but the game was sealed after 56 minutes when Aubameyang set Smith-Rowe free up the left and he fired home a shot which deflected off Mings and into sorry Villa’s net.

Ramsey’s late effort was little consolation for the visitors, who simply took too long to wake up and were never really in the game.

Next up for Arsenal is a League Cup tie against Leeds in midweek before a testing Premier League fixture at Leicester, whilst Villa are home to West Ham on Halloween. The two teams head into those fixtures with very different levels of confidence – and who would have thought that a few weeks ago? Arsenal’s revival is about far more than a VAR drama.

ARSENAL: Ramsdale 7, White 7, Gabriel 7, Tomiyasu 7, Tavares 7, Partey 7, Sambi Lokonga 7 (Maitland-Niles 73, 6), Smith Rowe 8, Saka 8, Aubameyang 9 (Martinelli 90), Lacazette 7 (Odegaard 68; 6). Unused subs: Leno, Holding, Soares, Pepe, Elneny, Kolasinac.

ASTON VILLA: Martinez 7, Konsa 6, Mings 6, Tuanzebe 5 (Baily 45; 6), Targett 5, Cash 5, Luiz 6, McGinn 6, Buendia 5 (Ramsey 68; 7), Watkins 5, Ings 5 (El Ghazi). Unused subs: Steer, Sanson, Young, Nakamba, Hause, Archer.

Referee: Craig Pawson.

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