Arsenal in full flight as they tear Villa to shreds

Arsene Wenger’s side at their rapier best in five-goal rout

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud  lifts the ball over Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan  during the  Premier League  match  at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph:  Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud lifts the ball over Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

 

Arsenal 5 Aston Villa 0

Another win for Arsenal and with it the growing sense that this will be another season in which they at the very least qualify for the Champions League. Doing so has become their speciality and here was a special performance from Arsène Wenger’s men as they cut open a willing but ultimately beleaguered Aston Villa side at near will.

The home side were at their rapier best with goals from Oliver Giroud, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil either side of half-time warming the spirits of those in attendance on a chilly afternoon in north London. To their credit Villa were no pushovers and showed an admirable desire to secure what would have been a first win in eight league games and a first league goal since Christian Benteke registered against Manchester United on December 20th .

The visitors pressed high up the pitch and looked to put Arsenal under pressure but on three occasions they were picked off by a side who are unrivalled in the Premier League when it comes to pouncing on the counter attack. Santi Cazorla’s penalty 15 minutes from time and Hector Bellerin’s low drive in stoppage time put the icing on a hearty Arsenal cake, who have won three league matches in a row for the first time this season.

Wenger made five changes to the Arsenal team that knocked Brighton out of the FA Cup. There was, however, no return for Alexis Sánchez, who was absent with a hamstring strain, or the new arrival Gabriel Paulista, who was among the substitutes.

Villa’s starting line-up contained only two changes from that which also triumphed in the FA Cup last week against Bournemouth, with Brad Guzan returning in goal and Fabian Delph also back to the fore. Their own new arrival, the on-loan Scott Sinclair, also had to do with a place on a bench.

The visitors were relatively settled, then, but nevertheless arrived here in shocking form. In the circumstances, they may taken heart at the absence of Sánchez given the Chilean has scored more goals in the Premier League season than the Villa squad combined, 12 compared to 11.

Arsenal contain plenty of other attacking threats, of course, such as Walcott, and it was he who almost gave them the lead inside a minute after being put through by Aaron Ramsey’s quick pass. The winger, making his first league start in 13 months, appeared to have a clear path towards goal only for Jores Okore to charge across and make an interception at the crucial moment.

The moment was a warning to Villa that their tactic of pressing high up the pitch could prove vulnerable against such a slick and inventive side, and indeed they were undone as a result of the approach on eight minutes when Ozil sent a delicious first-time flick over the visitors’ back four and into the path of Giroud. The Frenchman had practically the whole of the opponent’s half of the field to race into and unlike, Walcott, was able to hold off the advances of Okore before lifting the ball over Guzan and into the back of Villa’s net for his fifth goal in his last six league appearances.

It was a wonderful goal and an early sucker punch for Paul Lambert’s men, who looked likely to concede again as Arsenal made repeated surges towards their goal. But the visitors held firm and began to enjoy a period of possession,with Carlos Sanchez regularly looking to begin attacking moves from a deep midfield position.

But Arsenal had their own man on a mission in that position in the shape of Francis Coquelin, and practically every time Villa did get forward it was he who was there to break their momentum and get the hosts going again. Which they did on 26 minutes as an exchange of passes between Cazorla and Giroud led to the Spanish midfielder crashing a low drive against the post.

A second Arsenal goal again felt inevitable so cue shock around this stadium when it was Villa who almost scored just before half-time. Carles Gil delivered an inswinging cross from the right flank which Andreas Weimann was able to reach. But his header was close enough to David Ospina for the Colombian to make a save.

The second half began with Christian Benteke threatening the Arsenal goal with two efforts inside six minutes. Anxiety grew among the home fans and even more so as increasingly confident Villa side pushed the hosts back. But that left them open to a counter-attack and it was from such a move that Arsenal increased their lead on 56 minutes. Walcott won possession deep inside the Arsenal half, played the ball to Giroud who then sprayed it out to the left where Ozil charged into space and hit a precise shot into the far corner of the net. Arsenal’s No 11 and 12 had again combined to devastating effect.

It was 3-0 seven minutes as Arsenal again cut Villa open with a move of stunning precision. This time it was Walcott and Cazorla who were involved, exchanging passes before the former glided across the Villa area and hit a sumptuous first-time shot past Guzan.

The fourth arrived after Guzan had fouled Chuba Akpom before Bellerin secured his first goal in Arsenal colours.

(Guardian service)

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