Advantage Manchester City in title race as Unai Emery comes back to haunt Arsenal

Spanish coach completes double over his old club as goals from Bailey and Watkins seal 2-0 win for Aston Villa

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Like the rest of us, Manchester City were able to sit back and watch Sunday's Premier League action unfold from the comfort of their armchairs.

And you can be sure their WhatsApp group came alive as first Liverpool, and then Arsenal, saw their title dreams damaged by shock defeats. From nowhere, it's advantage City – and they so rarely relinquish control once they have it.

Pep Guardiola, whose side thrashed Luton Town 5-1 on Saturday to go two points clear with six to play, may want to send a message of his own: a note of thanks to Unai Emery, the former Arsenal manager who returned to haunt his old team. This win completed a double over his former employers for Emery, sacked by the Gunners in 2019.

Twelve months on from choking in the home stretch, Arsenal once again risk unravelling with the finishing line in sight.

They played well in a first half they dominated. But inevitably, with the stakes so high, the longer it remained goalless the more nervous the Emirates became.

Villa blossomed. On came Leon Bailey to exploit the space behind the full-backs. It was a masterstroke from Emery as the Jamaican broke the deadlock. The air gushed out of the Emirates. The home fans murmured in disbelief as Ollie Watkins finished masterfully to make it 2-0.

Having ceded top spot to City on Saturday, Arsenal must have been boosted before kick off as news filtered through of Liverpool's defeat to Crystal Palace. Yet, instead of seizing the moment, they joined Jurgen Klopp's side in despair.

"Two very different performances," Gunners boss Mikel Arteta said. "The first half was superb, one of the best halves we have played against a top team. It should have been three or four - or more. We didn't put that score line up and didn't reflect that second half. We lacked momentum. We didn't have the flow we had in the first half and then we conceded two very, very poor goals.

"We can't control [Manchester City]. What we can control is that when we have the run we had when you win, win, win, win, it's easy. The moment is now. After this blow, it's how we react."

Arteta freshened things up from the 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich by replacing Jakub Kiwior with Zinchenko at left-back and adding Gabriel Jesus and Leandro Trossard to his attack.

The visitors, who arrived in London having won just once in their previous five, were hampered by the absence of midfield anchor Douglas Luiz who was serving a suspension.

The Gunners started with intent and Bukayo Saka, in particular, proved a thorn in the side of the visitors. Twice he got in down the right, with only the final ball missing. Kai Havertz threatened next as he just failed to gather Trossard's dangerous pass.

Saka soon broke free again and this time got his cross spot on – floated to the back post with his left foot – but Jesus headed tamely wide. Next time, Saka decided to go by himself, collecting the influential Martin Odegaard's pass before shooting wildly into the side netting.

Villa finally managed to escape their half midway through the opening period but Watkins took too long to get his shot away.

Arsenal's dominance continued but the next time Watkins ventured forward, he was inches from breaking the deadlock. Villa's top scorer latched on to Gabriel's errant pass but saw his shot smack the inside of the post and skid across the face of goal to safety.

The hosts responded aggressively; first Trossard was denied brilliantly at point-blank range by Emi Martinez before Saka sent a low curling effort narrowly past the Argentine's right-hand post.

Home nerves were frayed when Youri Tielemans rattled the Arsenal crossbar just shy of the hour mark.

Having been under the pump for most of the preceding hour, the visitors were emerging as an attacking force. Arteta knew it and sought to halt their momentum with changes, including the arrival of Gabriel Martinelli in place of Trossard.

It was to no avail as Bailey entered the action and dealt a hammer blow to Arsenal's chances of a first league title for 20 years; the winger tucking away Lucas Digne's cross at the back post. The hosts were stunned and soon another stray pass saw Watkins surge clear and chip David Raya with an audacious finish.

Updated: April 14, 2024, 7:45 PM