After Liverpool and Man City victories, the natural assumption would be an Arsenal win.
Arteta made six changes. Saka and Nketiah were back; Holding came in along with Kolasinac in the back three, with Cedric, and Saka as midfield wing backs.
Arsenal were late Emery. Sluggish. After the Lord Mayor’s Show. The pressing exertions of the last two games, including the sapping Wembley turf had taken their toll.
The question this game threw up was: Are the squad players good enough quality? And following from that: how much is Stan Kroenke willing to invest – with the FFP temporarily suspended? The self-sufficient business model doesn’t work in the Coronavirus landscape.
It appeared easier to beat two struggling sides and get into the Europa League via the league position, than to beat the third best team in the country in a final. It is all a bit déjà vu vis a vis Crystal Palace and Baku. Except this time, it is entry into a lower European League.
In terms of the Premier League – it is the first time Arsenal will finish outside the top six in 25 years.
Arsenal made a good break in first minute, but Cedric’s cross was blocked.
Elmohamady injured a hamstring in a race with Saka and was replaced by Guilbert.
Saka made a good run in and passed hard into the area.
Ceballos was playing deep but poor defending from the Spaniard and Luiz – failing to clear a relatively simple situation led to giving away a corner.
Hourahan swung it into the mix, Mings headed on and Trezeguet who fired low and hard beat Martinez with the speed of the shot. Cedric was slow getting out and turned his body.
Twenty one of the 46 goals Arsenal have conceded in the Premier League this term have come from set-pieces.
Arsenal were exhibiting signs of a hangover. Things were breaking down. Flat.
Villa switched formation to match the Arsenal wing backs and they grew in confidence. Grealish crossed dangerously and then went on a run on the counter and fired just over.
At half-time Xhaka came on for the relatively ineffectual Torriera who had been booked and at one point incurred the wrath of the increasingly influential David Luiz.
Kolasinac couldn’t find his own team-mates. But Cedric could and centred for Saka who knocked it over.
Villa changed to 4-4-2 with McGinn moving closer to Samatta.
Mings mis-controlled a centre and Aubameyang mishit it.
Nketiah flicked a corner against the post when he should have scored.
Tierney and Pepe came on for Luiz and Saka. Kolasinac moved to the centre in a four with Holding.
Aubameyang found space on the edge of the Villa area but misplaced a pass to Nketiah.
Pepe ran near the Villa area and was fouled by Targett. His resultant free kick was cleared by Mings.
Villa’s well organized defence held out for their first win against Arsenal for 21 years.
Jack Grealish said: “We were outstanding, the defence and counter-attack. We should have got another goal.”
Aston Villa manager, Dean Smith said: “It was a great performance and good result. We showed courage. I can’t remember Pepe [Reina} making a save. We restricted them and defended space in front of our centre-halves and drove them backwards.”
Mikel Arteta said: “We gave everything. We lacked a bit of freshness against a low block – and struggled to get creativity.
“We got into good positions but could not deliver the final ball. It has been a physical and emotionally demanding week. They were trying their best. I’m not disappointed about their attitude. It’s about certain moments in areas of the pitch.
Asked about the banner commissioned by Arsenal fans and flown above Villa Park at the start and showing: Back Arteta, Kroenke out, the Spaniard was quick to squash any dissent, saying Kronke and the board had given him their full backing, saying: “We don’t need the banner.”
Aston Villa: Reina, El Mohamady (Substituted for Guilbert at 25), Konsa, Mings, Targett (Booked at 87), McGinn (Substituted for Lansbury at 90+3), Douglas Luiz (Booked at 71), Hourihane (Substituted for Nakamba at 73), Trézéguet, Samatta (Substituted for Davis at 72), Grealish
Arsenal: Martínez, Holding, David Luiz (Substituted for Pépé at 60), Kolasinac (Booked at 80), Cédric Soares (Substituted for Willock at 79, Booked at 90), Ceballos, Torreira (Booked at 35, Substituted for Xhaka at 45), Saka (Substituted for Tierney at 60), Nketiah, Lacazette (Booked at 61).