Arsenal tops Villa 1-0, strengthens hold on 4th place in EPL

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Arsenal strengthened its hold on the final Champions League spot in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, secured by a first-half strike by Bukayo Saka.

The England international latched onto a ball that was weakly cleared by the Villa defense and lashed a low, first-time shot past unsighted goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from the edge of the area in the 30th minute.

Arsenal — missing first-choice goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale because of injury and in-form winger Gabriel Martinelli because of illness — was in control for most of the lunchtime game at Villa Park despite the short turnaround from its loss to Liverpool on Wednesday night.

Saka was a constant danger and his well-taken goal took him to nine in the league this season, during which he has established himself as regular on the right wing.

Arsenal moved four points clear of fifth-place Manchester United and within five of third-place Chelsea in its bid to return to the Champions League. This season is the first in a quarter of a century that Arsenal has not been involved in European competition.

Arsenal also has a game in hand over United, which isn’t in action this weekend.

Ninth-place Villa was strangled by Arsenal’s intensity in midfield and had only a few sights on goal, mostly in the second half. From one, Ollie Watkins struck the base of the post in the 68th minute with what proved to be the hosts’ best chance.

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