Watkins scores twice as vibrant Villa stun Arsenal

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LONDON (Reuters) – Aston Villa returned to winning ways in stunning fashion as Ollie Watkins scored twice in a 3-0 away thumping of an abject Arsenal in drizzly north London on Sunday.

The visitors had already seen a John McGinn goal ruled out for a harsh offside decision when Bukayo Saka, under pressure from Trezeguet, put into his own goal after 25 minutes.

Villa went up a gear in the second half with Jack Grealish pulling the strings in midfield and it was no surprise when Arsenal-fan Watkins headed home in the 72nd minute.

Watkins struck again three minutes later after a rapid counter-attack to seal the points.

Consecutive defeats to Leeds United and Southampton had halted Villa’s early-season charge but they moved back up to sixth with 15 points from seven games.

Remarkably Villa have already won more away games this season than they managed in the whole of the last campaign.

Inconsistent Arsenal are down in 11th with 12 points after four wins and four defeats so far.

“We’ve conceded a few goals the last couple of games and it’s how you bounce back and we’ve done that tonight,” Watkins, who signed from Brentford in the transfer window, said.

“You’ve seen tonight and against Liverpool, we’re a great side and we can beat anyone.”

Villa were denied a dream start when McGinn thumped a piledriver past Bernd Leno but Ross Barkley was adjudged to have been in the line of sight of the keeper while in an offside position — referee Martin Atkinson making the decision after viewing a pitchside monitor.

Rather than provide a wake-up call for Arsenal it had the opposite effect and a slick Villa took the lead when Matt Targett’s low cross was turned in by Saka, although Trezeguet was poised to score anyway.

Willian put a decent chance high over the bar for the hosts and Alexandre Lacazette should have done better with a clear header from Kieran Tierney’s whipped cross in the 41st minute.

Villa took the game by the scruff of the net in the second half and Leno made saves from Trezeguet and Grealish, either side of Dani Ceballos curling just wide for Arsenal.

Dean Smith’s side doubled their lead with a goal of stunning quality. Douglas Luiz picked out Barkley with a raking diagonal ball and the England midfielder’s first-time volleyed cross was met by the alert Watkins to nod home.

Things got even worse for Mikel Arteta’s side when Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez, formerly of Arsenal, released Grealish down the left and the midfielder scorched across the turf on a 50m run before slipping a pass to Watkins to shoot home.

“The way we lost today really hurts,” said Arteta, who clearly has a lot of work to do if Arsenal are to be challenging for a top-four place this season.