The sense of optimism about the new season that's been surrounding Aston Villa was shown to be justified-for now at least-with a stunning opening day win at the Emirates. Antonio Luna put the exclamation point on a brace from Christian Benteke, giving Villa their first Premier League win over Arsenal since May of 2011. Villa's chances were clearly bolstered by the questionable sending off of Laurent Koscielny, but in a fiesty affair that featured nine bookings in total it was mostly a question of which side would end up down a man rather than if.
The day didn't begin on an especially promising note; just six minutes in, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain burst down Villa's right flank and found a completely unmarked Olivier Giroud in the center of the box who fired past Brad Guzan to give the Gunners the early advantage. Arsenal continued to dominate for the next ten minutes, and with Villa chasing shadows it began to look as though the game could get out of hand very early on. But in the 21st minute a superb individual effort from Gabby Agbonlahor saw him in on goal before being taken out by Wojciech Szczesny. It could be argued that the Arsenal keeper should have been off, but Anthony Taylor felt otherwise and showed yellow.
Szczesny did well to save the ensuing penalty from Christian Benteke, but the rebound fell favorably to the Villa striker and he headed home to equalize. The goal clearly settled Villa down, and the rest of the half was a roughly even affair in terms of chances. After the break Arsenal looked the better side thanks in part to the introduction of Santi Cazorla, but a Villa defense that looked familiarly shaky at the start of things was resolute in keeping the opposition out. Right on the hour mark it was Agbonlahor once again bursting through on the counter and flying into the area to win Villa another penalty after being brought down by Laurent Koscielny.
At first look it seemed to be a questionable call on a day which saw many of them, but upon review it was clear that the Arsenal defender took out Agbonlahor's left leg before making contact with the ball. Szczesny wasn't able to keep Benteke's effort out this time, and Villa climbed ahead with half an hour remaining. Arsenal's trouble deepened in the 66th minute, with Taylor making what was perhaps the worst call of the day in showing Koscielny his second yellow, ostensibly for a foul on Andreas Weimann that did not appear to have much in it. It was an awful day for the referee-he lost control of the game very early and made several puzzling decisions against both sides-and the sending off sent the Emirates into a frenzy of boos and whistles.
Despite being down a man and down a goal, however, Arsenal continued to push hard for the equalizer and came close on multiple occasions. If not for several super-human effort from Guzan, they would have found it. But all doubts were put to rest in the 85th minute, when a brilliant ball from Weimann split the Arsenal defense and put Antonio Luna-of all people-clear in on goal. The Villa left back didn't disappoint with his finish, sending the away section into rapture and the Arsenal fans streaming towards the exits.
It's a dream start for the season, and with Chelsea and Liverpool both on tap within the next week it was a vitally important three points to claim. It wasn't a dominant Villa performance by any stretch and it involved more than a little bit of luck, but it was a deserved win against one of the league's better teams on their own pitch. The bigger story is likely going to be the purported unraveling of Arsenal, but from Villa's perspective it's a lot more fun than that. These kids can play.