By Nik Brumsack at Villa Park
Arsenal moved to the top of the Premier League with a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday lunchtime.
Arsène Wenger’s side secured this win in the first half - Olivier Giroud scoring his 50th Premier League goal from the penalty spot before Aaron Ramsey finished an incisive counter-attack just before the break.
The home side upped the ante after the break but, a Scott Sinclair header aside, created little as Arsenal comfortably held on for their third win in the space of eight days.
This has been an excellent week for Wenger’s men - and one that may be seen as a turning point in the season come next May.
Having secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages with a memorable win in Piraeus on Wednesday, this was another demonstration of intent from a side whose professional display here ensured a place at the league’s summit. They will stay beyond Monday night providing Leicester City don’t beat Chelsea.
It all sets things up tantalisingly for Arsenal’s next fixture - a heavyweight clash against Manchester City in eight days time. After this performance, the Gunners can be confident of going into Christmas with a very real chance of winning a first league title in 12 years.
SETTING THE SCENE
Recent fixtures between the teams had brought no shortage of joy to Arsenal.
The Gunners had scored 12 and conceded none in last season’s three matches against Villa, including that famous 4-0 FA Cup final win at Wembley in May.
That was the most recent meeting between Sunday’s opponents, though a victory in another competition dominated the pre-match chat coming into this game.
Arsenal’s accomplished 3-0 win at Olympiacos in midweek secured a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and was described by Wenger as “a perfect performance”.
No surprise then, that the manager named an unchanged line up from the one that had progressed in Piraeus.
Wednesday’s hat-trick hero Giroud spearheaded the attack with Walcott retaining his place on the right. Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey started in central midfield.
Meanwhile, there was a familiar face in the opposition dugout. Remi Garde spent three years at Arsenal in the late 1990s, making 43 appearances during his three years at Highbury.
It took Giroud just eight minutes to continue his prolific recent form.
He was presented with the opportunity when Alan Hutton tugged the rampaging Walcott back inside the area. After a brief wait, referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot and, as he did in Greece on Wednesday, Giroud finished clinically from the spot to bring up his 50th Premier League goal.
The goal sapped Villa’s belief and they could have been further behind 20 minutes in. Again Giroud was heavily involved, flicking Mesut Ozil’s whipped free-kick towards goal. This time though, Rudy Gestede raced back to clear the ball off the line.
Villa had a sight of goal themselves soo, Leandro Bacuna blazing over after Petr Cech had failed to hold a deep cross.
Despite that scare, Arsenal were in control and almost doubled their advantage on the half hour. Once more the opportunity came from an Ozil set-piece, with Laurent Koscielny inches away from connecting inside the six-yard box.
Soon after however, Ozil had his assist. The goal itself was one of top quality - the Gunners breaking at pace, moving the ball inticrately and finishing clinically.
Ramsey won possession midway inside his own half before finding Ozil. The German fed Walcott before racing on to the incisive return pass. He was through on goal but elected to wait, eventually squaring for Ramsey to sweep home. Villa’s defence was nowhere to be seen.
The hosts began the second half re-energised and should have halved the deficit after 56 minutes. Sinclair was the guilty party, heading over Hutton’s inviting cross from little more than six yards.
Villa, markedly better after the break, kept coming without really threatening the Arsenal goal. Bacuna curled a shot narrowly over from edge of the box and Carles Gil, introduced from the bench dragged an effort just off target. Despite Villa’s improvement, Arsenal generally coped well with the increased pressure on their goal and in the end, Cech was relatively untroubled in keeping his 169th Premier League clean sheet - equaling David James’ all-time record.
Arsenal could have added a third shortly before full-time when Ramsey and Ozil combined before finding substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose deflected shot was palmed wide by Brad Guzan.
The Gunners finished as they had started - on the front foot. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey both threatened to extend the lead late on but couldn’t quite find their aim.
As it was, it didn’t matter. The game ended with Arsenal’s travelling fans singing “we are top of the league”. On the basis of this display, they could stay there.
Referee: Kevin Friend
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