Emery wants fans' support after Gunners snatch unlikely win
Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2
If ever a match underlined the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Arsenal it was this. They were trailing 2-1 after 80 minutes and, with only 10 men on the pitch following the dismissal of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a first Premier League away win since 2015 beckoned for Aston Villa and outright rebellion loomed for Unai Emery.
The open cheering of Emery's decision to substitute his captain Granit Xhaka underlined the simmering anger among Arsenal fans before their team somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was a result that masked a myriad of problems - notably the concession of another 14 shots after the 31 last week against Watford - but it would be dangerous also to underestimate the potential psychological boost of winning from such a desperate position. Dealing with the inevitable questions about Xhaka - and how he had been singled out by Arsenal fans and how the team also improved without him - also became rather easier.
"We need our supporters helping each player," said Emery. "Xhaka is an experienced player, his commitment and behaviour is great. He knows sometimes there will be criticism. We need to be mature and experienced. We are creating a good spirit with our supporters and the players feel that."
It was a somewhat hopeful assessment but, with Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea also showing plenty of weakness so far this season, the bottom line is that Arsenal are now back in the top four.
Other positives had been the sight of Bukayo Saka making a first Premier League start following his starring performance in Frankfurt on Thursday and Matteo Guendouzi's influential second-half display. It all meant that Mesut Ozil's midweek European rest was in preparation for another afternoon on the bench and it was noticeable that Emery still did not turn to his highest-paid player even after they had twice fallen behind.
Villa were earlier impressive in quickly taking full advantage of Arsenal's defensive frailties. Anwar El Ghazi crossed from the left and, with Guendouzi failing to track John McGinn's run and centre-backs Sokratis and David Luiz leaving a huge space between them, the Villa midfielder finished clinically.
It soon went from bad to worse for Arsenal when Maitland-Niles, who already been booked for a foul on El Ghazi, slid in on Neil Taylor. The Arsenal right-back connected with the ball but the challenge was sufficiently dangerous for referee Jon Moss to give a second booking.
Emery had been considering taking Maitland-Niles off after his first card but was instead forced to sacrifice Saka and bring on Calum Chambers. It coincided with added urgency in Arsenal after the break, epitomised by Guendouzi, whose powerful run into the penalty area provoked Bjorn Engels into a clumsy foul. Tom Heaton gambled to his left and Nicolas Pepe confidently rolled his penalty down the middle for his first goal since being signed for £72 million.
Villa manager Dean Smith accepted the mistake but noted that Guendouzi "didn't need much encouragement" to fall. Emery later revealed that it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's generous decision to let Pepe take the crucial penalty in an attempt to lift his team-mate's confidence. Parity lasted just a minute, however, with Jack Grealish surging past both Sokratis and Xhaka to square for Wesley to restore Villa's advantage.
Next came a decisive moment. As Arsenal mounted their desperate search for goals, Joe Willock and Lucas Torreira were introduced and Emery's surprising solution proved inspired.
Guendouzi had already hit the post before Chambers showed considerable persistence to force Arsenal's scrappy 81st-minute equaliser. The Emirates was suddenly wide awake and, after having won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area, Aubameyang smashed his winner across Heaton and into the top right-hand corner.
Arsenal naturally still rode their luck in the closing minutes, especially after Sokratis appeared to block a late shot with the top of his arm. (© Daily Telegraph, London)