After the emotional turbulence of our Champions League efforts in midweek, an away match in the most competitive Premier League races in years is hardly the recuperation our undoubtedly jaded players required.
Thankfully though, the opponent was Aston Villa – who at the time of writing have a paltry six points. It was ex-Gunner Remi Garde who was in the opposition dugout and he must have been hoping that the Gunners would be physically exhausted after their Athens heroics.
He was thankfully wrong.
Arsene Wenger named an unchanged lineup from the team who plundered three goals in Greece, and with only four days rest, Gooners must have thought it possible that an off-day that was a virtual regularity in November may once again occur.
Thankfully the team that took to the pitch had enough in its tank to eke out just a smidgin of class. This was enough to overcome an Aston Villa side that look doomed to the drop.
The Villans started well enough, but this may also be down to the fact that the Gunners were stuck firmly in first gear. Then, the jet engines flickered briefly. Theo Walcott was in the box, shadowed closely by Alan Hutton. Referee Kevin Friend was behind the action, but he saw enough to adjudge that Hutton had impeded Walcott’s goal threat. On first inspection, it seemed a tad harsh on a side who were already on their haunches, but with the benefit of slow-motion replays, it clearly shows Hutton with both hands on Walcott and the England speedster wheels around whilst falling to the turf.
This was the eighth minute. It was Olivier Giroud who once again stepped up to the spot in the absence of regular takers Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta. His confidence was undoubtedly high and his spot-kick matched his mood, zipping down the middle whilst Brad Guzan could only watch as his dive carried him away from the ball. It was Giroud’s fiftieth League goal for the Gunners.
1-0, and it was the death knell to Aston Villa’s positivity. The Gunners knocked the ball around with a swagger, and with no real concerted effort from the home side to reclaim possession. When they did manage to touch the ball, Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey were snapping voraciously at their heels.
Say what you like about them not being first choice in the centre of midfield, but their appetite and stamina cannot be questioned. Flamini – and Ramsey in particular – were vibrant and always kept things ticking over. It was when Aston Villa had the ball however, that they came to life.
It was this very talent that led to Arsenal’s second. Aston Villa had a rare forage into Arsenal territory, only for a Welsh trap in the form of Ramsey to foil their advances. The ball was shipped to a couple of players, all the while Ramsey was blazing a path from his own box to Aston Villa’s penalty area. Theo Walcott in the centre circle laced a precise through ball to another onrushing teammate – Mesut Ozil – who shaped up to shoot. Instead though, he tricked the last remaining defender with his body shape and passed it squarely to the man who started the move. Ramsey took it first time and despatched it past the flailing Guzan.
2-0 and the first half wasn’t over yet. For the remaining minutes it was played out at a canter and when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the half, the Villan fans who left their seats to get refreshments may have been in two minds whether to return.
There was very little for Remi Garde to latch onto in terms of positives. The midfield was laboured and their defence, whilst withstanding the majority of Arsenal pressure – would have crumpled if facing the full force of the Gunners attack. It was tall frontman Rudy Gestede who was the first to be replaced and it was the motion to put Jordan Ayew up front that made their threat a little more tangible. The problem of their midfield though, may be a little harder to answer. January and reinforcements cannot come soon enough for Garde.
In regards to the rest of the game, Petr Cech at least touched the ball a few times but his attempt to match the record of clean sheets held by David James was never really under threat, despite his teammates taking their foot from Aston Villa’s throat. Now the giant Czech has matched James, it is only a matter of time before he first breaks the number and then smashes it.
Relating to records, Thierry Henry’s record of twenty assists in a single season is well within Mesut Ozil’s laser reticule. Earning his fourteenth assist when passing for Ramsey for this match’s second goal – the German now has more assists than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. Will he get another six assists in the league season? It’s safe to say that he should.
The game was a gimme after the second goal for Arsenal. Aston Villa seem resigned to their fate and if they fail to win their next game at Newcastle – it may be curtains for one of the ever-present teams in the Premier League era.
For another of the clubs who have always been in the Premiership, they now sit at the summit, albeit may be for just a day seeing as Leicester City could go top with a win over Chelsea. The feat is remarkable given the circumstance.
A whole team worth of absentees. no outfield players bought in the last transfer window. Experts said Arsene Wenger had lost the plot, but vindication comes with his side in first place and coping with an injury list that even the most affluent would struggle with.
There will be tougher tests than this match. One of these comes next week in the form of title rivals Manchester City. Make no mistake though, this game was still a hurdle. That wasn’t down to the opponent though, more down to physical fatigue.
Three points earned. The job was done with minimum fuss and even better – no fresh injuries. #UTA