Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta praised Emile Smith Rowe for changing his lifestyle after the 21-year-old midfielder assisted the Gunners to a well-deserved victory over Aston Villa, which moved them into the top half of the Premier League table.
After hitting the crossbar earlier, Thomas Partey headed in Smith Rowe’s corner for his first goal for the Gunners.
Arsenal were awarded a penalty at the end of the first half following a lengthy video assistant referee review for a Matt Targett foul on Alexandre Lacazette.
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty, but the Gabonese striker converted the rebound from close range.
Villa improved on a dreadful first half, but Arsenal’s third goal came 11 minutes into the second half, thanks to Smith Rowe.
He won the ball in his own half and completed the move with a deflection and the post.
Jacob Ramsey curled his first Villa goal into the top corner from 20 yards out as a consolation for the visitors. They applied good pressure and created a few chances near the end, but it was too little, too late.
Villa received two bids for England. Under-21 international Smith Rowe declined in the summer, with Arteta insisting he was never concerned about his future at the Emirates Stadium.
Smith Rowe has two goals and two assists this season, and Arteta is pleased with the academy graduate’s progress.
“When you want to take the game to the next level when you want to become a really important player in such a big club, that should be your only priority, and every detail is important and relevant,” he said.
“You have to make him aware of it; you can’t give away percentages that can make a big difference, and he has changed that.”
“There is no complaining; he is just looking forward; he is very determined; he has changed the way he lives a little bit, as well as some of the habits that he had, and he’s been superb.”
This did not appear to be a game between two teams sitting next to each other in the table – but Arsenal were 12th and Villa 13th before the game began.
Arsenal can produce good spells, such as the start of Monday’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, as well as good games, such as the 3-1 win over Tottenham.
This was one of the better games, at least for the first 80 minutes.
Aston Villa were the polar opposite of their 3-2 loss to Wolves. They collapsed in the final ten minutes, but this time it was when they had the majority of their chances.
They did not manage a shot in the first half, which is the first time this has happened to a team playing against Arsenal in the league since May 2018.
Partey had hit the woodwork from close range before heading them into the lead, so the Gunners should have been out of sight.
Martinez made several good saves, and Aubameyang had a goal disallowed for a questionable Lacazette foul.
But Arsenal got their second goal in first-half injury time. Craig Pawson whistled for half-time, but he was actually stopping play for a VAR consultation.
Targett was about to clear the ball when Lacazette stepped in front of him, drawing a foul. A penalty was awarded, and Aubameyang scored on the second attempt.
Villa increased their threat at halftime by replacing defender Axel Tuanzebe with winger Leon Bailey, but Smith Rowe sealed the deal after their first couple of chances.
Or so it appeared until Ramsey scored the game’s best goal. For Villa, Ollie Watkins, Ramsey, and Bailey all had chances but were unable to set up a tense finish.
Dean Smith, manager of Aston Villa said: “We were physically dominated in the first half.” I’d like to take the second half. But I don’t think we’ll be physically dominated. You can’t give Premier League teams a head start.
“We knew Arsenal would get off to a fast start, but we let them dominate the first half.”
“I’m perplexed by the penalty. We discussed the lower-contact frivolous penalties extensively [before the season].
“I saw it once and can’t tell if he touches the ball first or the man first.” If we’re looking at a penalty that long, they might not be given.”