Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2: Wilshere Stars as Gunners Return to the Top
Villa Park (Premier League)
Aston Villa: Benteke (76′) – Arsenal: Wilshere (34′), Giroud (35′)
With the Gunners resting for over a week since their last fixture, they were forced to watch in anguish as Chelsea (on Saturday) and Manchester City (on Sunday) both secured wins that offered them a chance to have a feel of what it felt like to be on top of the table.
The Gunners had it all to do on a cold night at Villa Park and the manager made a couple of changes from the side that was triumphant against Tottenham in the FA Cup. Wojciech Szczesny returned in goal, Laurent Koscielny replaced the injured Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta’s calf injury paved the way for Flamini, and the attacking duo of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud returned to the fray.
As expected, Arsenal began the game on a brighter note with Bacary Sagna pelting a cross that gave Nathan Baker some problems as his attempted clearance sailed into the air before dropping on the roof of the net. Santi Cazorla swung in a deep cross that was nodded straight to Serge Gnabry’s path but his first touch let him down.
Sagna continued to threaten on the right flank with another deep cross that was flashed wide by Giroud. On the other end, Wilshere failed to control a loose ball and Christian Benteke fed it to Fabian Delph but the young Englishman’s shot drifted wide off the mark. The Gunners launched another attack from a short corner and when the ball fell to Gnabry’s path, he fired a goal-bound shot that hit Nathan Baker on his head.
It wasn’t a pleasurable sight as the defender stayed motionless on the ground while several physios and medics did their thing on him. After close to seven minutes of treatment, he was finally stretched off, which earned him a rousing ovation from both sets of fans. Shortly afterwards, El Ahmadi lurked into the box and latched unto Delph’s pass but his shot sailed effortlessly over the bar.
The match opener arrived when Mesut Ozil tore open the Villa defense with a carefully-weighted through pass to Nacho Monreal. The Spanish fullback surged forward before attempting to feed Giroud but Jack Wilshere controlled the ball with a superb first shot and fired it past Brad Guzan with his second touch.
That was Wilshere’s fifth goal in Arsenal colors, which is his personal best since he broke into the first-team in 2010. His play had been criticized for lack of goals, and with five already this season, those critics have been made to eat their words.
While the Gunners were basking in the euphoria of getting the game’s opener, Wilshere robbed Delph off the ball and clipped a diagonal pass to Giroud. The Frenchman shoved the threat Lowton posed and fired a shot past Guzan to make it two goals in less than a minute for the Gunners.
The Gunners contained their hosts for the remainder of the half and at the sound of the ref’s whistle, they were one half away from returning to the summit of the Premier League.
At the start of the second half, the hosts added some urgency to their game as Bacuna’s fired a shot that was easy pickings for Szczesny. At the other end, Monreal made a slalom run from the left and almost found himself through on goal but Ron Vlaar executed a strong tackle to evade the threat. However, he also had some of Monreal as well as the ball, which left the fullback on the turf.
Ozil almost exploited Gnabry’s pace with a neat through ball but Guzan raced from his line to anticipate the ball. Ozil fashioned a chance for Cazorla but his shot was saved by Guzan in goal. Arsene Wenger summoned the services of Kieran Gibbs for the injured Monreal and Tomas Rosicky replaced the ineffectual Gnabry.
Against the run of play, Cazorla was robbed off the ball and a cross into the danger area was headed home by Benteke.
That goal offered Aston Villa a chance back into the game and all of a sudden, the Gunners look rattled and nervous. Andreas Weimann hurled a cross with Benteke waiting on the far post but Mertesacker was on hand to make a vital merteception, heading the ball out for a corner.
Rosicky and Gabby Agbonlahor challenged for a ball in the air but the Czech was second best as he received a nasty whack to his nose that caused him to bleed. He was replaced by the Ox shortly afterwards.
Late on, Benteke had a header that was saved but the Gunners soaked up the pressure. After the six minutes of stoppage time had elapsed, the Gunners celebrated at the sound of the referee’s whistle as they had returned to the top.
A home clash against Fulham comes up next and you’d bet your smart money on the Gunners to get three points in the bag.
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