Aston Villa made the perfect start to the new Premier League season, with an impressive though perhaps controversial victory at Arsenal. It was a lively affair which had more of its fair share of talking points, and just as he did many times last season, Christian Benteke scored the vital goals, only this time it was via two penalties, the first scored on the rebound and the second hotly disputed.
Things looked ominous early on as Arsenal took the lead thanks to Olivier Giroud, who converted following a stylish passing move. However, despite the home side’s dominance, Villa went in level at half-time through a penalty awarded for goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor. Benteke’s kick was saved by the Pole, only for the striker to head home the follow-up.
The second penalty proved to be the winner. Although the sliding Laurent Koscielny appeared to win the ball, the spot-kick was given. Benteke scored, and Koscielny was sent off minutes later. Arsenal’s woes were compounded by new arrival Antonio Luna’s goal on the break five minutes from time. An excellent afternoon for Villa, even with the majority of the new arrivals stayed on the bench.
Of the six new players brought to the club by manager Paul Lambert this summer, only Luna, signed from Sevilla, was handed a start. The 22-year-old, who looks set to take over from Joe Bennett as first-choice on the left of the back four, had a sound debut, and announced his arrival in fine fashion by sealing the win.
It was surprising not to see either of the two new wingers, Leandro Bacuna and Aleksandar Tonev, make a full debut. Bacuna did make a brief appearance late on, but as it was, Lambert stuck with the tried and trusted 4-3-1-2 formation which proved successful at the end of last season.
It involved awarding Karim El Ahmadi a recall to the side in midfield, for only his second start in the entire calendar year. The Moroccan lined up alongside Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph – who was extremely unlucky with a second-half shot that hit the post – in the absence of the injured Yacouba Sylla.
Defender Jores Okore, who was signed from Nordsjaelland in June, also failed to get a look in on opening day, with Lambert again going for the same personnel that ended 2012-13 in Nathan Baker and captain Ron Vlaar. Even when Baker was forced off, Ciaran Clark was preferred to Okore as his replacement.
But ultimately, with the exception of Luna, last season’s maturing young team did the business amid the howls of derision that came from the Gunners supporters, despite the debatable award of the second penalty. Expect the rest of the new signings to make a larger contribution in the coming week, as Lambert’s side face two more tough fixtures against Chelsea and Liverpool. However, on the evidence of Saturday, anything could be possible in 2013-14.
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