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Villa looking to make a statement at Arsenal

premier league aston villa v manchester city
Aston Villa started the season prioritising a top-four Premier League finish but inspiring performances under manager Unai Emery have catapulted them to third and within reach of title rivals

Aston Villa will try to build on their biggest win of the season and continue their climb up the table when they visit league-leading Arsenal on Saturday.

Leon Bailey’s 74th-minute strike sealed a deserved three points in a 1-0 home win over defending league champions Manchester City on Wednesday that moved Villa (10-3-2, 32 points) above City and into third in the table.

And while manager Unai Emery’s squad may not have drawn preseason attention as legitimate title contenders, their position is well earned.

Six of Villa’s seven home league wins have come by multiple goals, and their 34 goals scored are tied for second most in the Premier League.

With eight goals and six assists, Ollie Watkins is halfway to breaking his Premier League career high of 15 goals and two-thirds to his career-best 21 goal involvements.

Emery — who had an unsuccessful spell in charge of Arsenal in 2018 and 2019 — is adamant that Wednesday’s victory should not be the peak of Villa’s season but another step in continuing to build the club.

“It’s my challenge every day to be better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today,” he insisted Friday. “I am not going to stop. I have to try to keep balance as well. Against Manchester City we were playing very well, but I want to try to do some steps ahead like we are doing but thinking we have to be in this level, we have to want to be at this level.”

Arsenal (15-1-3, 36 points) enter the weekend on the heels of a gutty 4-3 victory at newly promoted Luton Town, who, despite their low place in the standings, have been a difficult team to beat at home.

Declan Rice’s winner in the seventh minute of second-half stoppage time gave the Gunners a dramatic win after both teams took turns holding the lead in the first hour.

While it was far from Arsenal’s best performance of the season, it was a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions under difficult circumstances, and a litmus test for manager Mikel Arteta of his club’s potential championship mettle after last year’s second-place finish.

“A team has to have an unbelievable desire to win every match and I think we’ve got that and we’ve shown that time and time again,” Arteta said. “We could’ve scored earlier, there were certain moments that we could’ve done better to get the third or the fourth goal but when it’s not the case the team has resources and the skill right now to keep believing and actually doing what the game requires in that moment to win it.”

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