Martinelli’s winner keeps Arsenal’s perfect start going

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LONDON (AP) — Arsenal maintained its perfect start to the season and its spot at the top of the Premier League table, with Gabriel Martinelli scoring a second-half winner in a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday.

Martinelli let the ball take a short bounce in the area from a Bukayo Saka cross and the Brazilian struck it high into the net to beat Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez in the 77th minute.

“That’s the mentality that we want to show as a team and the character that we want to show to react immediately after disappointment,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said.

The goal canceled out a bizarre equalizer for Villa only three minutes earlier when Douglas Luiz took a corner and the ball curled in without anyone touching it to get the visitors back into the match.

Jesus opened the scoring in the first half, poaching a goal in the 30th after Martinelli flew down the left wing and passed to midfielder Granit Xhaka, whose cross deflected off a defender and toward Martínez.

The former Arsenal keeper weakly palmed the ball straight into the path of Jesus, who couldn’t have had an easier tap-in.

“He’s a beast, he’s everywhere on the pitch,” Martinelli said of Jesus, his fellow Brazilian.

The win means Arsenal is the only team in the league with a full 15 points from five matches. The Arsenal fans have provided an electrifying atmosphere inside the Emirates so far this season, and the players have been feeding off it.

“When you play in front of this crowd, that helps, because the energy that they generate is just amazing,” Arteta said.

Villa manager Steven Gerrard, on the other hand, is under intense pressure already, with four defeats in five matches.

Arsenal should have put this one away much earlier after dominating much of the game and creating a number of scoring opportunities. The best of the chances was an unmarked Saka’s near-post miss after a pinpoint cross from Martinelli in the 23rd. Other opportunities included a curling free kick from midfielder Martin Ødegaard in the second half that nearly beat Martínez, and a long-range strike from Martinelli that forced a stellar save from the goalkeeper.

“It’s the most difficult thing in football to score goals, but today we had some big, big, big chances, and we didn’t put them away,” Arteta said.

The intricate play of Ødegaard makes this Arsenal team tick, but Xhaka’s transformation from a defensive midfielder into a marauding playmaker has also boosted the Gunners’ attack. It was his presence in the box that led to Jesus’ goal.

Aston Villa resorted to tactical fouls throughout the first half to break up Arsenal’s play through the middle and on the wings. It started in the first 30 seconds of the match, with Lucas Digne setting the tone with a foul along the touchline on Jesus before Jacob Ramsey was booked in the 13th for a strong tackle on Martinelli.

Arteta said Ødegaard received a “bad kick, and he was struggling” toward the end of the match before he was substituted.

“We’ll have to see over the next few hours how he recovers,” Arteta said.

The visitors were in no rush to take the initiative, drawing boos from the home fans when players took their time during throw-ins and goal kicks. Their game plan was to sit back and try to hit Arsenal on the counterattack with long balls, but the threat only materialized in the 73rd when Leon Bailey’s fierce shot forced Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to make a fingertip save that led to Luiz’s corner and subsequent goal.

There was no real Villa press for Arsenal to beat, with Ramsdale able to easily roll the ball to players in midfield at times. And it won’t get easier for Gerrard, whose Villa side next faces champion Manchester City on Saturday.

“We’ve conceded two poor goals because we haven’t got the detail of defending right,” Gerrard said.