Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa: Pleasant afternoon stroll around Ashburton Grove
Another Arsenal match and another Arsenal win. The Gunners chalked up their seventh consecutive win as they put a hapless Aston Villa side to the sword at the Emirates, running out 3-0 victors at the end of ninety comfortable minutes. While the team have been functional rather than flowing for the past few games, nicking late victories and basing their game plan on relentless pressing and haranguing of the opposition, this victory was a fleeting return to the swashbuckling Arsenal of the old.
The pressing was still rife; robbing the opponents of the ball, within seconds of them having gotten it, is still an important facet of Arsenal’s play. But coupled with it was sharp movement and slick passing, Arsenal cut open Villa’s defence again and again. Whether it was balls over the top or neat one-twos at the periphery of the D; it was domination like Arsenal haven’t displayed this season.
Held no surprises at the outset. A back four of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs and Sagna protected Szczesny in goal, behind the midfield trio of Rosicky, Song and Arteta. A forward line of Gervinho, Walcott and van Persie completed proceedings, with Aaron Ramsey dropping to the bench from the Everton game in midweek. But a minor knee twang to Koscielny during the pre-game warm up meant that Johan Djourou started the match, disrupting Arsenal’s back four for the first time in recent matches.
Aston Villa went for the nippy counter attacking style of play which they usually adopt at the Emirates; with Agbonlahor and Albrighton providing enough pace down the flanks and front to complement Heskey’s ball-holding skills. Ireland, Petrov and Bannan were all part of a midfield tasked with matching the Arsenal juggernaut for possession of the ball.
Arsenal raced out of the blocks filled to the brim with verve and vision. Their quick passing left Villa defenders chasing shadows and giving up space in criminal amounts. After having carved out a couple of decent opportunities, the home side took the lead in the 16th minute from an unlikely source.
Interplay between Rosicky, Gibbs and Gervinho on the left the Villa flank confused; and the Ivorian slipped it in to the adventurous Gibbs, who waltzed into the box and slid the ball under Given’s outstretched hand to open his account in the Premier League and Arsenal’s account in the match.
As much as Arsenal were polished in their play, Villa were equally patchy in theirs. Their backline gave the ball away under little or no duress; and their work ethic was very mediocre in the first half as they gave Arsenal unreal amounts of time on the ball. After one such hospital pass by Cuellar, Song looked up and swung a beautiful lofted pass into the path of speedy Theo Walcott. The Englishman’s first touch was impeccable, his finish accomplished, and Arsenal’s lead secure.
But it could, and possible should have been much more secure heading into the break. After an Arsenal move had broken down at the edge of the box, Arteta’s powerful drive was just tipped over by Given. And as the half reached its final embers, van Persie was set free in the box; his ballerina feet evaded Given but his goal bound shot was somehow headed over by a backtracking Warnock.
It seemed as if both teams were content with the scoreline remaining at 2-0. Arsenal stepped off the accelerator ever so slightly, but not enough to be lulled into security. Aston Villa ran about but never really got stuck in and ended up mustering a couple of weak shots on target the entire game.
There was very little noteworthy to report in this half from both sides. Aaron Ramsey came on and had a snapshot or two. But then, in virtually the last minute of injury time, Arsenal’s third goal came from a direct free-kick. The Gunners have hardly been purveyors of set-piece end product, but as birthday boy Arteta lashed the ball in from thirty yards, there was only one place in the world it was nestling in.
That brought an end to a relatively relaxed afternoon at the Emirates, where the result never looked in doubt from the first whistle to the last. Arsenal move on to next week and an encounter with QPR, looking to continue their impressive run of form. The Londoners are overflowing with confidence and rightly so. March on.