Arsenal carried on climbing the Premier League table as they swept Aston Villa aside on Sunday with a brace from skipper Cesc Fabregas.
Martin O’ Neill’s team travelled to London hoping to add to their growing scalp of the big four collection having already beaten Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. The match started with both sides carving out chances. Eduardo had the bulk of Arsenal chances early on but failed to finish, Richard Dunne also netted but saw his goal disallowed for a foul on Manuel Almunia. The first half looked a stale affair as Arsenal’s over intricate passing was often intercepted which saw them pegged back on occasion by Villa’s counter attacks. There was no indication of an easy afternoon for Arsenal as Aston Villa worked hard and maintained strong at the back four.
The game showed more interest as the second half got underway with the home side pressing and looking for the opener, coming close with Eduardo and Gallas having an effort cleared off the line. The match came to life just after the hour mark when Arsene Wenger brought on Cesc Fabregas from the bench to introduce a more creative hub in the centre. The captain quickly made a forceful impact with a sublimely curled free kick to awaken the Emirates and the rest of his team. Arsenal were brought to life and poured forward to add further injury to Villa, a two-pass move from one end of the pitch to the other in a classic counter attack saw Fabregas notch a second, injuring himself in the process. Abou Diaby sealed the three points by roaming freely up through the middle of Villa’s midfield to curl in a third and put the Gunners four points adrift of league leaders Chelsea with a game in hand.
Arsene Wenger: “It was a very important game because it’s a good opportunity to go close at the top of the table. It’s important for the team to know that they can win big games.”
Martin O’ Neill: “I thought we were in reasonable control and doing fine. Then the goal obviously changed the pattern of the game. I didn’t mind at the end us conceding a couple of times as we were chasing the game.”
Arsenal will be very glad with the three points and a clean sheet against genuine rivals for a top four spot. The first half performance would have given no signs of being a 3-0 victory. While the strikers looked off key, it was a day of midfield maestro’s for the London side. Alexandre Song gave an imperious display of strength, hard tackling and hunger often giving the fans the only thing to be vocal for in the first half.
The introduction of talismanic captain Fabregas gave a spark to the game and a much-needed lift to the midfield. Arsenal’s No 4 had watched from the bench seemingly eager to get on the pitch and make a difference. The Spaniard’s cameo was short-lived but awesomely influential. Fabregas – not the teams’ first choice free kick taker – clearly showed intent and desire to get his team on the score sheet by lining up for a free kick from 23 yards out. The second half belonged to the Gunners as they mounted pressure on Aston Villa and were paid off handsomely.
Martin O’Neill stated that he wasn’t “Too disheartened” by his side’s performance and that the goal had changed the game completely. Villa have proved their mettle this season by beating other members of the big four and have looked like true challengers for a spot at the top of the table.
Their much-improved defence was carved apart by Arsenal but there are still signs of hope for the Villains to be the team most likely to break into the top four. The performances of in-form James Milner carry on catching the eye of many and O’Neill will be happy with the performances of his midfielders at the Emirates. He refused to dwell too much on the defeat instead focusing on the upcoming game against Liverpool where they will hope to do the League double over the Reds.
Even on the back of their first League defeat in eight games, Villa can remain hopeful of their campaign so far, this time last year saw them start to slip away from the top four but with O’Neill’s shrewd defensive buys they sit fourth with the second best defensive record in the league. Their top quality England players hoping to break into the National side will assure that goals will come and with a stoic defence, they look confident in securing European football for next season.
Wenger’s men looked to have capitalised on recent dips in form from Manchester United and Chelsea while not conceding in the process, the win takes edges them closer to the coveted crown of the Premier League. Arsenal will no doubt rue the loss of Alex Song to the African Nations, they looked short of creativity without Fabregas and Wenger will be hoping his injury is not long term as he prepares to come into the New Year with a squad ready to mount a final charge on the Championship.
Arsenal 3 – 0 Aston Villa – Fabregas (65, 81), Diaby (90)
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia – Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore – Song, Denilson ((Fabregas (57) (Ramsey (81)), Diaby – Nasri, Arshavin, Eduardo (Walcott 63)
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Friedel – Young, Dunne, Cuellar, Warnock – Milner, Petrov, Young -Downing, Agbonlahor, Heskey (Carew 63)
Arsenal – Aston Villa
10 – Corners – 4
15 (9) – Shots (on target) – 7 (2)
15 – Fouls – 20
1 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 3 (0)
1 – Offside – 5