Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gabriel, Debuchy, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi
Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League table with a solid 2-0 win at Aston Villa.
Olivier Giroud grabbed an early opener from the penalty spot after Theo Walcott was felled by Alan Hutton before Aaron Ramsey finished a fine counter-attack to double the lead before half time. Villa rallied after the break but the Gunners, who looked comfortable throughout, held firm to secure the three points.
Having confirmed on Friday that his side had come through Wednesday’s win over Olympiakos unscathed, Arsene Wenger named exactly the same squad for the trip to Villa.
Six points adrift at the bottom of the table, Aston Villa were well aware of the need for a solid start against the Gunners. Regrettably for new boss Remi Garde, when you pick lumbering oafs like Alan Hutton you’re going to be punished. And so it came to pass.
In the seventh minute Theo Walcott, freed by a fine pass by Mathieu Flamini, used good strength to take the ball on the run and squeeze past the clumsy Scot. The Villa right-back initially resisted the temptation to take out Theo before panicking and doing exactly that with outstretched arms.
Referee Kevin Friend originally waved away Arsenal protestations before rightly pointing to the spot, presumably thanks to a word from his assistant. Olivier Giroud, picking up where he left off in Athens, sent Brad Guzan the wrong way to bag his second penalty of the week. It was the Frenchman’s 50th Premier League goal. (1-0)
The goal set the tone for a comfortable half as the Gunners knocked the ball around crisply without really turning the screw. There was a half chance for Giroud to bag his second from a delicious Ozil set piece only for his looping header to be cleared off the line.
The travelling Gooners were enjoying their afternoon taunting their hosts with hearty renditions of “You’re fucking shit” and “You’re going down with the Chelsea.” In response the home fans resorted to cheering free-kicks, but they soon gave up on that sliver of consolation when Arsenal doubled their lead eight minutes before the break.
A Ramsey challenge in the Gunners half saw Giroud and Ozil find Walcott who in double quick time fed the German bursting through the middle. Arsenal had three men on the overlap as our assist-king gave Guzan the eyes before passing square to Ramsey to knock the ball into an empty net from 12-yards. (2-0)
Villa looked much brighter in the early stages of the second half. In the space of 11 minutes Rudy Gestede and Scott Sinclair had headed chances and Jordan Veretout and Carlos Sanchez tried their luck from long range.
Sloppiness between Mertesacker and Cech, that luckily for the Gunners led to nothing, further buoyed Garde’s men who continued to knock on the door with a decent strike from Bacuna that clipped the top of the net.
Looking to sure up the flanks Wenger replaced the tiring Campbell and Walcott with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The latter forced a decent save from Guzan with eight minutes remaining as Arsenal resorted to hitting the hosts on the break.
“We’ll never play here again,” was the chant from Arsenal’s supporters as Villa fans left early in their droves. Hyperbolic maybe, but judging by the Villans’ lack of confidence there’s a decent chance we won’t be there next season at least.
A good day at the office was rounded off by Petr Cech’s 169th clean sheet; a total that sees him equal David James’ record. Tip of the protective headwear to you squire.