Arsène Wenger tends to eschew the obvious, so he broke with habit in signing Mikel Arteta in August. Requiring a consistently artful Premier League midfielder, he did not go abroad but appeared simply to take a quick look around the League and pluck from Everton the most affordable and available of those who fitted the description.
There are worse policies and Arteta has not let his new employer down. Only Alex Song seriously challenged the Basque as man of the match on Saturday when, as if to settle the argument in stoppage time, he struck past Shay Given a free-kick of such force that it took the mind back 21 years to Paul Gascoigne's for Tottenham in an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal and another excellent keeper in David Seaman.
Arteta also epitomised the crisp assurance of Arsenal as, their confidence growing with every win – this was their seventh in a row – they took advantage of an Aston Villa team who looked defeated with little over a quarter of the match gone and young Englishmen queuing to score: both Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott made enterprising runs for their goals.
On this form, Villa are going to hear more of the possibility of McLeish being relegated from the Premier League with Birmingham clubs in consecutive years. Injuries have affected them and the fine results achieved by Wigan and Bolton on Saturday were a reminder that work still needs to be done.
Just as the League is enhanced by a vibrant Arsenal, it cries out for a robust Villa. But no longer can Villa eye even the Europa League, while Arsenal contemplate the luxury of not having to enter a Champions League qualifying round, which their current place of third would guarantee. Once again Arsenal have that air of long-term prosperity and Wenger must take steps to preserve it by engaging as many players on the Arteta model as the club can afford.
There were encouraging signs in Gervinho against Villa: the attacker's readiness to cover for Gibbs meant that the left-back could engage in forays such as that which brought his goal. But Gervinho's class is still at issue, as, until recently, was Walcott's. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is different. You could risk a bet on his being a game-changer over the next few years.
Wenger needs more of those to recapture the status of the Henry/ Bergkamp /Pires /Ljungberg days and it will require a lot of money.
Will Wenger demand it? Will the board cough up? Villa fans cannot even dream.
Arsenal: SZCZESNY 6/10, SAGNA 7, DJOUROU 5, VERMAELEN 7, GIBBS 6, SONG 7, ROSICKY 7, ARTETA 8, WALCOTT 7, VAN PERSIE 6, GERVINHO 7
Aston Villa: GIVEN 7, WARNOCK 7, COLLINS 6, CUELLAR 7, HUTTON 5, AGBONLAHOR 5, PETROV 6 HERD 5, ALBRIGHTON 5, HESKEY 5, IRELAND 6
Scorers: Arsenal Gibbs 16, Walcott 25, Arteta 90.
Subs: Arsenal Santos 6 (Gibbs, 68), Ramsey 6 (Gervinho, 68), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott, 77). Aston Villa Gardner 6 (Herd, 52), Weimann 6 (Heskey, 65), Lichaj (Hutton, 78).
Booked: Aston Villa Petrov, Warnock, Ireland, Collins, Lichaj.
Man of the match Arteta. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Arsenal 57% Aston Villa 43%.
Attempts on target: Arsenal 12 Aston Villa 2.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire). Attendance 60,108.
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