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Aston Villa beats Arsenal 2-0 as Emery damages Gunners' title hopes in Premier League

LONDON (AP) — Unai Emery damaged his former team’s title hopes again as Aston Villa beat Arsenal 2-0 on Sunday to leave Manchester City top of the Premier League.

Both goals came late after Villa had soaked up Arsenal’s pressure for much of the game, with Leon Bailey putting his team ahead in the 84th and Ollie Watkins adding the second on a counterattack two minutes later.

Arsenal became the second title challenger to falter at home in the span of a few hours after Liverpool lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace at Anfield earlier in the day. That leaves defending champion Man City in full control of the title race as it leads both its rivals by two points with six games left to play.

Emery replaced Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in 2018 but lasted just 18 months before being fired. His Villa has now held Arsenal’s high-flying attack scoreless in two games this season after a 1-0 win at home, a double that could well end up costing Mikel Arteta’s team the title.

It was Arsenal’s first league loss of 2024, and brought back memories of last season when the team also led the standings late in the season but collapsed to hand City the title.

“Now is the moment to react, to show your character, your leadership,” Arteta said.

For Villa, the win puts them three points ahead of Tottenham in fourth place, although Spurs have a game in hand.

Arsenal had controlled much of the game and created a half dozen half chances in the opening 35 minutes, while Villa looked threatening when going forward and had hit the woodwork twice, once in each half.

So it wasn’t a surprise when the opener came.

Arsenal’s defense let a cross from Lucas Digne bounce across the area to Bailey, and the substitute had an easy finish into an empty net.

With Arsenal pouring forward in search of an equalizer, Villa hit them on the counterattack as Youri Tielemans sent Watkins clear through on goal and the striker chipped the ball over Raya with a delicate finish.

It was Watkins' 19th league goal of the season, putting the boyhood Arsenal fan just one behind Man City's Erling Haaland in the scoring chart.

“It’s massive to come away to Arsenal when they’re playing such good football and controlling games, to play like that just shows where we’ve come and where we’re going," Watkins said. “It was probably a perfect away performance. ... A lot of people doubted us, they thought we played good football but couldn’t get a result here. We’ve proved a lot of people wrong.”

Watkins hit the post in the 39th and former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez pulled off a great save just a minute later to deny Leandro Trossard from close range, in what proved to be the hosts' best chance of the match.

“We knew an away win would help our Champions League hopes,” Martinez said. “This is the first step, we’ve got five finals left."

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer