Aston Villa vs Arsenal match report: Mesut Ozil leads Arsenal’s stroll back to the Premier League summit

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 2: Arsenal secure comfortable victory at Villa Park

Kevin Garside
Villa Park
Sunday 13 December 2015 16:33
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Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil celebrate Arsenal's second goal against Aston Villa
Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil celebrate Arsenal's second goal against Aston Villa

There cannot have been many easier ascents to the summit of the Premier League. For 24 hours at least Arsenal are cock of the walk and looking value for it after a routine victory here.

An early penalty from Olivier Giroud and a sweeping second by Aaron Ramsey were the nuts and bolts of it. Aston Villa improved after the break but never threatened Arsenal’s hegemony. So in the space of four days, Arsenal look a force again, ready for a 16th straight tilt at the Champions League knockout stages on the resumption in February and with a new-found focus in the Premier League.

It has to be now, surely. It is 12 years since Arsenal’s last title triumph, a stain on the record of Arsène Wenger. Looking about at the erratic contribution of all but Leicester at the top of the table, common sense suggests Wenger might never have a better opportunity to bury the “specialist in failure” label coined by Jose Mourinho.

How ironic that Mourinho should find himself on the thick end of impoverished returns now, the more so should his ailing Chelsea bolster Arsenal’s prospects tonight with victory over Leicester. Wenger will not mind how his team prevail, of course, and if they continue in this vein results elsewhere won’t matter.

That said they are unlikely to encounter easier meat than this. Villa have not beaten Arsenal at home since 1998, and never came close to breaking the spell yesterday. Arsenal were unchanged from the side that won so impressively at Olympiakos, so notionally vulnerable after a 4,000 mile-round trip to Athens.

Rémi Garde, Wenger’s first signing for Arsenal in a double swoop with Patrick Vieira, started his Villa reign with an unlikely draw at home to Manchester City. He garnered another rearguard point at Southampton but has yet to win and started this fixture six points adrift at the foot of the division with Martin Keown, a pundit common to both clubs, fearing Villa are already beyond saving.

It is hard to argue on this evidence. Arsenal were ahead inside eight minutes. Giroud cannot miss at the minute, sliding home his 50th Arsenal goal from the spot. The Villa players complained bitterly at the decision yet the wonder is referee Kevin Friend did not immediately interpret the infringement as an offence, inexplicably delaying his decision until presumably prompted by an assistant to Alan Hutton’s obvious mauling of Theo Walcott.

Villa’s first real opportunity came in the 20th minute after Petr Cech palmed a cross from Carlos Sanchez straight to Jordan Ayew on the edge of the box. The moment called for composure but what it got was over-eagerness with Ayew lumping the ball left-footed over the bar.

The margins being so narrow, it is chances of this nature that must be taken. A fortnight ago Norwich did exactly that after being pinned in their own half for much of the first 45 minutes at home to Arsenal. Villa chase about the park hard enough, perhaps too hard. It takes confidence to change the pace and point of attack. Villa play too much in straight lines.

A mistake by Ramsey presented Idrissa Gueye with a speculative opportunity on the half hour. Gueye reacted like a schoolboy happening across a bar of chocolate in the playground. He gorged on the chance before thinking properly what he might do. The result brought the crowd behind the goal into the game instead of Cech.

Then up the other end went Arsenal, scoring a goal the epitomised the gulf between the teams. Ramsey started the move by dispossessing Gueye in his own half, feeding Walcott, who in turn picked out Mesut Özil with a sharp diagonal pass. Joleon Lescott did not know whether to stick or twist at Özil’s suggestion of control. The dummy threw him completely, allowing Özil to square the ball for the on-rushing Ramsey to embellish the move with an emphatic finish.

Ramsey took the plaudits but it was Özil whose grace and movement made the goal the sumptuous pleasure it was. To think there were doubts about his value to this Arsenal team. That pending contract renewal cannot be signed quickly enough.

Garde looked like a man walking to the gallows when he resumed his seat for the second half. Perhaps it was the realisation that the job he thought he had taken on was in fact far more problematic. It is not simply a matter of industry and heart but of wisdom, craft and ultimately experience, elements in short supply at Villa Park.

Again there was no lack of effort from Villa at the start of the second half. Sanchez curled one into the palms of Cech from long range. The indefatigable Hutton picked out Rudy Gestede and Scott Sinclair with decent crosses, but neither player troubled the keeper with lame headers.

The Gestede-up-top policy gave way in the 56th minute to the quicker feet of Carles Gil, so influential in the draw against City last month. It was in effect an admission of the futility of hit and hope. With an hour gone Wenger introduced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs for Joel Campbell and Walcott. His team were never rattled but this season being what it is Wenger was right to guard against complacency.

In truth they were playing the match at training pace in the second period, the improvement made by Villa as much a function of the scoreline at half time. Whenever the home side raised the tempo Arsenal responded with quick raids principally through Özil and Ramsey. Their ability to engage the higher gears when it suited was a persistent comfort to Wenger.

After a week piling up the air miles, Arsenal now have seven days to prepare for the visit of Manchester City to the Emirates. The points on offer will not be decisive. Far more important is the impact victory over City might have on the way Wenger and his team see themselves. Now is the time, you feel, for this group to press on and take hold of the Premier League.

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