24th March, 2012
Arsenal strengthened their grip on third place in the Barclays Premier League with a comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. The Gunners made it seven straight league wins to make the most of Tottenham’s goalless draw at Chelsea with first half goals from Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott.
Villa rarely threatened with Mikel Arteta cracking in a fine free-kick in stoppage time as Arsenal coasted to victory, putting them three points ahead of Spurs, with fifth-placed Chelsea now eight behind in the race for guaranteed Champions League football next season.
Arsenal had made just one change from the team which won at Everton in midweek, with Gervinho replacing Aaron Ramsey, but were forced into another when centre-half Laurent Koscielny suffered what was thought to be a knee injury in the warm-up so Johan Djourou came in.
Before kick-off, there was applause as a banner of former Arsenal midfielder Fabrice Muamba was passed among supporters, the Bolton player now making good progress following his cardiac arrest last weekend. There was an early stoppage when Djourou went down following a stray elbow from former England striker Emile Heskey, preferred to Austrian Andreas Weimann – who scored a stoppage-time winner against Fulham last time out.
The Swiss international needed treatment for a bloody nose, but there was no action taken by Phil Dowd – much to the annoyance of Gunners boss Arsene Wenger. It was Villa who created the first opening when Marc Albrighton charged down the right and into the Arsenal penalty area, only to stumble and fire the ball over the bar. Arsenal were soon on the offensive, with Walcott’s shot blocked before right-back Bacary Sagna blasted the loose ball wide.
The Gunners took the lead through an unlikely source after 16 minutes. Gervinho fed Gibbs into the left side of the Villa box, and the defender’s low, angled drive squirmed under Shay Given’s arm for the England international’s first Premier League goal. Arsenal maintained momentum, and after 25 minutes, Walcott dispatched a magnificent effort to double Arsenal’s lead. Alex Song’s chipped pass into the Villa box was taken in his stride on the run by the England winger, whose next touch was to calmly stroke the ball into the bottom corner.
The Gunners were rampant now, with Arteta’s fierce drive from 20 yards being tipped over by Given. When Villa did get some respite on the break, the delivery into the Arsenal penalty area was poor. Stephen Warnock denied Gunners skipper Robin van Persie with a desperate flying header on the line after more slick build-up from the hosts. Villa had to come out positive for the second half, which then left gaps as Arsenal looked to capitalise on the counter-attack.
Arsenal were awarded a free-kick yards out after substitute Gary Gardner tugged back Tomas Rosicky. Arteta struck his effort into the wall. On the hour, a quick thrown out by Wojciech Szczesny sent Czech midfielder Rosicky away, who fed Gervinho down the left, but his cutback from the byline flew across the six-yard box. Rosicky was central to the action now, with Given beating away his 25-yard drive. After 65 minutes, Heskey was replaced by Weimann. Arsenal soon made a double change as Ramsey and full-back Andre Santos came on for Gervinho and Gibbs.
The Brazilian’s first contribution on his return to action from a broken ankle was to give the ball away to Weimann, but the Austrian lost composure in the Arsenal box and fluffed his big chance, stabbing across goal and wide. Arsenal were screaming for a penalty when substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scampered away down the right and went down under a sliding challenge from Stephen Ireland, but referee Dowd correctly ruled the midfielder had just got the ball first. The crowd were on their feet again in stoppage time when Arteta cracked home a 25-yard free-kick to round off a fine afternoon’s work from Wenger’s reborn side.