By Chris Harris
A goal in the second minute was enough to condemn us to a second straight defeat in the Premier League.
Ollie Watkins was the scorer, and we were left to rue a slow start and a flurry of near-misses as Aston Villa clung onto their lead in a one-sided second half.
Granit Xhaka went close with a fine free-kick and substitute Martin Odegaard fired over the crossbar from a great position.
It wasn't our day, essentially because we made the worst possible start. Indeed there were barely 90 seconds on the clock when Watkins scored a goal that was both avoidable and unlucky from our perspective.
Gabriel intercepted a forward pass and found Cedric, but the return pass fell short and Bertrand Traore nipped in to surge past Gabriel and play the ball across the box to Watkins.
Debutant Mat Ryan had his first-time shot covered but the ball flicked off Rob Holding and rolled into the corner.
Ryan was solid overall, saving from Traore, Watkins and John McGinn as Villa threatened on the counter-attack.
But the rest of the game was essentially about our efforts to find an equaliser.
Before the break our approach play was good but we barely tested former Gunner Emi Martinez. The exception was a fantastic free-kick from Xhaka that was clawed away from the top corner.
We went up a gear in the second half - with Nicolas Pepe prominent again.
He slid a right-foot shot just wide after fine work from Emile Smith Rowe, and Smith Rowe himself showed neat footwork to create himself a chance, only for Tyrone Mings to block.
Martinez saved from Hector Bellerin and on came Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Odegaard and then Willian as Mikel Arteta played his attacking cards.
Ryan saved well from Jack Grealish, then Watkins shot just wide as Villa took advantage of gaps on the break.
But we looked the more likely scorers and should have done so when Odegaard had a great chance 12 yards out. He got plenty of power on his shot - but the ball sailed over.
HOW IT HAPPENED
WHAT IT MEANS
Arteta made two changes to the side that lined up at Wolves - both of them enforced.
Ryan recovered from a hip problem to make his debut in place of the suspended Bernd Leno.
David Luiz - also serving a one-match suspension - was replaced by Gabriel.
Ryan's recovery means that Kieran Tierney (right lower leg) is the only injured player in our squad.
Our next Premier League game is against Leeds United on Sunday, February 14 at Emirates Stadium.
Then four days later it's back to the Europa League and a clash with Benfica.
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