Gibbs and Walcott put Arsenal on path to total control

Arsenal 3 Aston Villa

The Emirates Stadium

At the end of a London spring day that was close to perfection, Arsenal occupied a sort of heaven: with a seventh consecutive Premier League victory, Arsène Wenger's team had tightened their grip on third place and given themselves every chance of rescuing a season that seemed doomed a mere five weeks ago, when they lost 4-0 in Milan and almost immediately went out of the FA Cup at Sunderland.

Sometimes – as if Kenny Dalglish needed a reminder this morning – it really is all about the Premier League. Three points ahead of Tottenham and eight in front of Chelsea with just eight matches to go, Arsenal have in their own gift not only automatic qualification for the Champions' League but the honour of ending the campaign as England's leading team from outside the M60.

Indeed they may yet have the crucial say in which of the clubs from within Manchester's peripheral motorway takes the title; City are due at the Emirates a fortnight today and two or three points dropped on the ground where Aston Villa proved hopelessly uncompetitive yesterday could leave Roberto Mancini's side even more at a disadvantage to the serial persistence of Sir Alex Ferguson's United.

The change of atmosphere at the Emirates has been radical and it is to be hoped that those who were foolish enough to chant "You don't know what you're doing" at Wenger when he replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the home defeat by United in January had the grace to feel sheepish now.

There was a bonus for proud Englishmen in that more than one indigenous player scored for Arsenal in the same match for the first time since Ian Wright, David Platt and Ray Parlour contributed to a 5-0 triumph over Barnsley in October 1997. This pair arrived in the same half, too; only nine minutes separated strikes by Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott well before the interval.

The long wait for the third was worth it, for in stoppage time Mikel Arteta, whose link with Alex Song in the deeper of two midfield lines was fundamental to Arsenal's solidity, hit from 30 yards a free kick of stunning velocity and wicked movement that Shay Given saw all the way but could do nothing about. Afterwards Wenger gave some of the credit to the smallness of Arteta's feet, arguing that such players could rely on the lacesof their little boots to encourage the ball to do tricks.

Not surprisingly, Alex McLeish was more prosaic, the Villa manager saying that each of the first two goals was "lamentable from our point of view" and adding that more "dynamic" displays – of the sort that had brought Villa their only win in eight matches at home to Fulham a fortnight ago – were needed to keep relegation at bay.

After a bizarre opening – Johan Djourou, having been promoted from substitute because Laurent Koscielny felt the effects of a knee injury during the warm-up, appeared to take one of Emile Heskey's elbows on his nose, requiring lengthy treatment – Arsenal established almost total dominance.

Gibbs celebrated after the Aston Villa defence parted and Given made an unusually weak attempt to keep out the left-back's low shot and soon Walcott, whose pace and penetrative running posed a recurrent threat, tamed a superb pass from Song before stabbing the ball past Given.

It might have been even more painful for a fatalistic-looking Villa. Given did well to touch over a crafty dipper from Arteta and, when Robin van Persie coaxed the ball past the goalkeeper, he was thwarted by Stephen Warnock, who took off and, with a flick of his head, brought off a Gordon Banks or Jim Montgomery of a goalmouth clearance.

Villa emerged for the second half in a more enterprising frame of mind and, with Gary Gardner on for Chris Herd, began to threaten. But Arsenal are more resilient than they might have appeared earlier in the season, while the splendid Thomas Vermaelen was out injured. Command was regained and Wenger took the opportunity to provide a final treat for the crowd in the form of a cameo from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Andre Santos 68); Song, Arteta; Walcott(Oxlade-Chamberlain 77), Rosicky, Gervinho (Ramsey 68); Van Persie.

Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Given; Hutton (Lichaj 77), Collins, Cuellar, Warnock; Albrighton, Herd (Gardner 52), Petrov, Agbonlahor; Ireland; Heskey (Weimann 65).

Referee: Phil Dowd

Man of the match: Arteta (Arsenal)

Match rating: 7/10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?