Arsenal vs Aston Villa report: Inspirational Mesut Ozil takes chance to regain limelight from Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal 5 Aston Villa 0

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It has been easy to forget, over the past few months, that Arsenal bought a different world-class footballer before they bought Alexis Sanchez. The first half of this season has been so entirely the story of their £35m Chilean that most of his team-mates have been relegated to the footnotes.

This is particularly true of Mesut Özil, who came back late from winning the World Cup and then ruptured knee ligaments in October. While Sanchez has won game after game for Arsenal, Özil has had to watch and wait. The fact that the German’s arrival in 2013 prompted far more gleeful public celebration than that of Sanchez in 2014 has looked almost misguided.


Today, then, against a dismally pliant Aston Villa, was a chance for Özil to redress the balance. And he took it. For once, Sanchez did not feature. No outfield player in a major European league has played more minutes than Sanchez this year and ,after starting 32 official games already, his absence with hamstring tightness was no surprise. This was the first league game this season in which he has not made the squad. He has done remarkably well to get this far.

With Sanchez out, Özil came in, making his first Premier League start for almost fourth months. Like Theo Walcott, he had started at Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup last Sunday, looked sharp, scored, and been rewarded here in the league today. Walcott, in fact, was returning from an even longer absence, of 13 months, after a worse knee ligament injury.

Both Özil and Walcott scored again here, in a second half which became almost embarrassingly easy, confirming a fifth straight win for a newly impressive Arsenal side.

Olivier Giroud puts Arsenal ahead

But it was Özil who was the decisive man in settling this game, in building the platform for his team-mates to run in the goals at the end. He made the first, for Olivier Giroud, with what will surely be the best assist of this season. He scored the second, 11 minutes into the second half, when it briefly felt like Arsenal might be frustrated. That was the goal that killed Aston Villa, and after which they offered no resistance.

Given how badly the game ended for the visitors it was surprising, in retrospect, to see how competent they were for almost the first hour. Of course, it barely surprises anyone any more that they did not score a goal. Their last in the Premier League was on 20 December, more than 10 hours of league football ago.

David Ospina, preferred again in the Arsenal goal to Wojciech Szczesny, did in fact have two saves to make but they were both from half-chances. Any imagination or spark has drained out of this Villa team long ago.

Arsenal took the initiative from the start, working hard to unpick a team who had come with the best intentions of being difficult to break down. Lacking Sanchez, of course, put extra pressure on their attacking players to deliver with quality. But that is precisely what Özil did to make the opening goal after eight minutes, with an assist of such imagination and  technical precision that few other players in the Premier League could have done it.

Özil was standing on the centre-spot, facing Ospina’s goal, when he received a diagonal pass out of defence. Rather than taking the ball down, he cushion-flicked it with the outside of his left boot back over his shoulder, and over the head of Villa centre-back Jores Okore. Olivier Giroud ran on to the pass, straight through on goal and lifted the ball over Brad Guzan to give Arsenal the lead.

Mesut Ozil applies the finish to make it 2-0

From there, Arsenal were trying to extend their lead but they spent the remainder of the first half encountering some rare frustration. Walcott was stretching Villa with his running in behind but the first time he burst through Okore caught up and tackled him. Santi Cazorla skipped through the middle, away from tackles, but hit the post with his shot.

Arsenal went into the break just 1-0 up and the game remained in the balance. Two half-chances either side of the break – an Andreas Weimann header at Ospina, and a Christian Benteke shot wide – were the two moments the Villa manager, Paul Lambert, regretted afterwards. Because soon after the restart Özil scored Arsenal's second goal, which settled the game.

Villa lost the ball while attacking and Arsenal broke quickly. Giroud slipped a forward pass through to Özil, running away from Gil and Okore, and he placed a delightful left-footed finish into the far bottom corner.

Both managers marked that goal as the game’s decisive moment, when it became clear that only one team was going to win this match. From that point on, Villa collapsed and Arsenal, showing ruthless relish, continued to push.

Santi Cazorla celebrates Arsenal's fourth

Walcott, not to be left out of proceedings, scored the third, his first in the Premier League for 13 months. It came from counter against a team no longer able to resist, Cazorla again carrying the ball through the middle and finding Walcott, who skipped away from a tackle and put the ball into the far bottom corner.

The game was long gone and Arsenal’s manager, Arsène Wenger, introduced 19-year-old Chuba Akpom for the final 20 minutes. With enthusiasm and athleticism, he quickly won a penalty from Brad Guzan. Cazorla hit it straight at the goalkeeper, but did so sufficiently hard that it still flew into the net. Guzan did catch the next attempt, a header from Akpom straight at him, but the fifth and final goal came from another teenager. Cazorla rolled the ball right to Hector Bellerin, who placed it into the opposite bottom corner of the net from the edge of the box.

Lambert said he did not think it was a 5-0 game but his team had disintegrated in the second half and are, as ever, showing no signs of improvement. For Arsenal, though, this was a likely sign of their annual new-year upward turn in fortunes. If they can successfully pair Sanchez and Özil together in the team, there is far more to come from this side.