Aston Villa vs Arsenal match report: Mesut Ozil repays Arsene Wenger’s £42million belief sparking three goals in four minutes

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 3: Arsenal manager switches under-fire German to his favourite No 10 role, as Villa hit by more than sickness bug

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The Independent Football

A lesser man than Arsène Wenger would have welcomed a public apology. He might even have sanctioned the circulation of his CV, so its depth and substance could be savoured and celebrated. Yet he merely smiled serenely, and allowed his persecutors to reach an obvious conclusion.

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He’s not bad at this management lark, you know. He may be second guessed by couch potatoes and serial pessimists, but his principles are sound and his nerve holds firm. He did not need to dwell on the personal relevance of a four-minute, three-goal, spell which promises a timely transfusion of self-belief. 

The doubters would have dropped Mesut Özil, absurdly dismissed as a waste of £42million. Wenger retained his faith, and incorporated a significant tactical shift which utilised the German’s mobility and positional intelligence in his favourite role behind Danny Welbeck.

The hanging judges have already condemned Welbeck as a dubious investment, a forward who embroiders an attack rather than eviscerates a defence. He scored his first Arsenal goal minutes after setting up Özil’s first of the season.

It might not be Total Football, but it is a welcome flash of colour in the uniform greyness of the Premier League. The rotational movement of the front five was subtle and sinuous. Wenger’s facial features, so often pinched, were softened by the release of suppressed tension.


He acknowledged he considered resting Özil, after the midweek defeat in Dortmund but suggested “he can play anywhere”. Intuition was rewarded: “I felt he was at the point where I had to show confidence in him. He showed he can respond when he is under scrutiny.”

Villa were like an inexperienced heavyweight, unable to recover from a concussive flurry of punches. Assailed by a virus which afflicted six players they were, sid manager Paul Lambert, “running on empty”. Their plight coincided with owner Randy Lerner’s first home game in 18 months.

Ozil tucks home the opener

Özil’s performance underlined the perils of premature expectation. This season will be shaped by the speed and restorative powers of players who expended their reserves at the World Cup.  The German is still a month behind the curve in match sharpness. Consistency will be elusive; all Wenger can expect is constancy of purpose.

Arsenal still have issues:  their lack of defensive organisation in the opening 20 minutes would have caused George Graham to shed silent tears of frustration. Once a watchword for synchronicity, the back four resembled a collection of passing strangers whose minds were not in the same postcode.

They should have fallen behind, but Ciaran Clark, unmarked at the far post, had to stretch to reach Tom Cleverley’s free kick, and failed to generate sufficient power in his header. They may remain vulnerable to a smooth, speedy counter attack, but they profited from their ability to strike with sudden vehemence.

Welbeck scores Arsenal's second

Wenger’s stubbornness was rewarded in the 32nd minute, but not how he might have envisaged. Welbeck was the provider, with a pass of pace and accuracy. Özil’s side-footed finish was simplicity itself.

He returned the favour, whipping the ball in from the left for Welbeck to volley high into the roof of the net. It was his fourth goal in his last three Premier League games against Villa. Aly Cissokho, disorientated by the sudden shift in fortune, deflected a driven cross by Kieran Gibbs past Brad Guzan 10 minutes before the interval. That was enough to dispel the redemptive air which hung over Villa Park after a surprisingly successful start to the season.

So much for instructions to fear the beard. It might have mythical qualities and its spirit still resides at Highbury. But its owner Roy Keane was reduced to a peripheral figure against a club he loved to loathe.

Gibbs saw his shot turned in by Aly Cissokho

Since there were no discernible blood stains on his tracksuit as he returned for the second half, he might be mellowing. But that is not a theory to test to destruction.

He retains the brooding menace, so carefully cultivated as a player, when he needed no captain’s armband to express his authority. He imposes impeccable standards, personally and professionally. Defying him is not a sensible career move. His partnership with Paul Lambert has greater symmetry than his other role, as assistant to Martin O’Neill with the Republic of Ireland. Lambert will ensure the inquest into a comprehensive defeat will be productive.

“To get him back in the game was great” he insisted.” I know it probably raised a few eyebrows. Nobody sees the logic in it, but I just knew in my gut that it would work. I don’t think he’s the big bad guy everyone thinks”

Arsenal, a mixture of beauty and brittleness, are hardly natural street fighters, but in their own sweet way, they are winners, too.


Aston Villa (4-1-4-1): Guzan; Hutton, Senderos, Clark, Cissokho; Sanchez (Bacuna 85); Delph, Cleverley, Richardson (Nzogbia 76), Weimann (Grealish 46); Agbonlahor.

Arsenal (4-1-3-1-1): Szczesny; Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta; Ramsey (Wilshere 76), Cazorla, Oxlade Chamberlain (Rozicky 76); Özil; Welbeck (Podolski 76).

Referee: Mike Jones

Man of the match: Özil (Arsenal)

Match rating: 7/10