Aston Villa narrowly topped Arsenal 1-0 in dramatic fashion on Saturday to tighten the Premier League title race. The Gunners entered the match leading the Premier League by a narrow margin. Liverpool’s early Saturday victory against Crystal Palace, however, put added pressure on the Gunners. The Reds moved ahead in the standings by a single point thanks to the win.

Both Arsenal and Villa began the match as two of the hottest teams in the English top flight. The Gunners had previously rattled off six consecutive victories in all competitions. Arsenal, however, was without manager Mikel Arteta for the fixture, as the coach was given a controversial yellow card during their most recent match. Villa, on the other hand, picked up five wins in their last six games. This included victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

Villa strike early from a goal by their captain

The hosts started off the massive match with an early goal in the seventh minute to set the tone. Leon Bailey made a marauding run down the right flank to help create the score. The winger then pulled back a pass towards John McGinn inside the Arsenal box. The club captain collected the ball, made a clever turn, and fired a shot into the back of the net from close range. It was the Scottish midfielder’s fourth top flight goal of the season.

The early goal electrified the crowd, but Arsenal kept pushing to try to find a leveler. In fact, the visitors had more entries in the final third and touches inside the opposing box than Villa in the opening 25 minutes. Nevertheless, the Gunners could not quite break down the home defense during this timeframe. Arteta’s men seemed to lack their typical lethal touch in the early stages of the game.

Villa eventually took the slender lead into the halftime break. Arsenal, however, had plenty of solid scoring chances in the latter stages of the opening period. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Martin Odegaard all could have found a goal for the visitors. The Norwegian playmaker perhaps had the best opportunity of the trio, but ultimately took too long to hit his shot.

VAR reviews deny Arsenal of two possible second-half goals

The second half started with a VAR review for an incident involving Douglas Luiz and Gabriel Jesus. Replays showed that the Arsenal striker was seemingly kicked in the leg by Luiz inside the Villa box. Nevertheless, officials reviewing the play opted against asking referee Jarred Gillett to see the incident again on the pitchside monitor. English VAR officials previously gave Palace a penalty in the Liverpool matchup for a similar offense just hours beforehand.

Arsenal nearly picked up an equalizer twice inside two minutes of the second half. Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez first made a mess of a corner kick into his area in the 57th minute. The Argentine dropped the ball and it eventually came off of the post. However, he was able to collect before any further danger. Odegaard then put a shot just wide of the goal from a great position a minute later.

Arsenal had the ball in the back of the net in the 90th minute, but the goal was immediately ruled out for handball. The ball struck Kai Havertz’s arm just before Eddie Nketiah smashed it into the net from a yard away. Replays showed that the ball also touched Matty Cash’s hand just before the contact with Havertz. VAR, however, looked at the play plenty of times and agreed that the goal should not stand.

In the end, Villa held on to the slim 1-0 victory. The win puts the Birmingham-based club just two points behind new league leaders Liverpool. Arsenal is currently one point below the Reds in second place.

Photo credits: IMAGO / Sportsphoto.