Dean Smith says his Aston Villa players “like to make history”

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Dean Smith says his Aston Villa players “like to make history” after they completed a first top-flight double over Arsenal for 28 years.

Goalkeeper Mat Ryan conceded 74 seconds into his debut for the Gunners as Villa followed up a 3-0 win at Emirates Stadium in November with a narrow victory at Villa Park.

Former Arsenal keeper Emiliano Martinez started the move which led to Bertrand Traore pouncing on a mistake by Cedric Soares before Ollie Watkins scored with a shot that deflected off Rob Holding.

“That’s the first time we’ve done the double over Arsenal since the inception of the Premier League in 1992-93,” said Smith.

“These players like to make history as we’ve seen in the last couple of years.”

Boyhood Gunners fan Ryan, signed on loan from Brighton in January and starting in place of suspended first-choice keeper Bernd Leno, produced a fine save to deny Traore a goal on his return to the Villa side.

Martinez frustrated his former club further when the Argentine produced an excellent save to keep out Granit Xhaka’s free-kick.

Villa move up to eighth in the Premier League while Arsenal’s second successive defeat leaves them 10th.

Watkins moves into double figures
Villa climbed above Tottenham and closed to within three points of fifth spot through Watkins’ 10th Premier League goal since joining from Brentford for a club record £28m in September.

Three of those goals have been against Arsenal, the 25-year-old scoring two in Villa’s 3-0 win in London earlier in the season.

After a barren run of games without a goal between November and January, there are clear signs Watkins is warming to playing at a higher level.

In netting Villa’s earliest Premier League goal since 2014, Watkins has four goals in his past five top-flight appearances after Cedric’s intended pass to Gabriel was way too short, allowing Traore to nip in and cross for the striker to score.

This was Villa’s sixth game in 18 days but there was little sign of fatigue as they worked hard to return to winning ways after being picked off by West Ham on Wednesday.

John McGinn and Jack Grealish were both denied by Ryan while Watkins forced the new Arsenal keeper into two further saves.

Burkina Faso forward Traore brought fresh energy after being a substitute on Wednesday, while Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings helped limit Arsenal to three attempts on target.

During a sustained period of Arsenal pressure, Mings did well to block Emile Smith Rowe’s goal-bound attempt and Matty Cash got in the way of Bukayo Saka’s shot.

“It was a real hard-working performance,” added Smith.

“We’ve got the quality to score goals but that was more like us – a real dogged display against a good offensive team.”

With 35 points from 21 games, Villa have equalled their tally from 2019-20 when they stayed up on the final day of the season.

Asked whether qualifying for Europe was a possibility, Smith added: “We’re not looking that far ahead. People talk about that and you fall flat on your face against West Ham.”

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