Friday 6 December 2019

Villa's dream start gets rude awakening from Gunners

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 3

Arsenal's Danny Welbeck shoots at goal. Photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples
Arsenal's Danny Welbeck shoots at goal. Photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples
Danny Welbeck scores his first Arsenal goal. Photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil celebrates with teammate Per Mertesacker after scoring a goal during their English Premier League match against Aston Villa. Photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples
Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain controls the ball during their English Premier League match against Aston Villa. Photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Staples
Arsenal's Per Mertesacker (right) and Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Villa Park. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Paul Wilson

Aston Villa went into this game believing they could go top of the league with a victory. They came out of it chastened, their presumption exposed, grateful only they had not been asked to play against Borussia Dortmund.

So comprehensively outplayed in midweek, a transformed Arsenal indulged in a little bullying of their own to put Villa's best Premier League start for 16 years into perspective. The record books will show that three first-half goals in the space of just over three minutes put the game beyond the home side's reach, and that would have been remarkable enough after an evenly matched first half-hour that produced little goalmouth incident.

In fact Arsenal's ambush was even more stealthily surprising than that.

Two goals in two minutes ended the contest with an hour still to play, stunning the home crowd into silence as much through the identity of the scorers as the precision of their finishing.

Mesut Ozil practically invites criticism, and has been getting it in spades since the Dortmund defeat, through not even appearing interested in his team's fortunes or his personal contribution. Gunners fans have been imploring Arsene Wenger to drop him, and the manager must have been tempted. Yet not only did he leave him in the team and give Alexis Sanchez a rest he played him in his favoured No10 position and was handsomely rewarded. First by Ozil's cool finish for his first Arsenal goal of the season, gliding on to Danny Welbeck's through ball and calmly slotting past Brad Guzan, then by his next involvement in the game when he turned up on the left to create the second goal.

This time it was Welbeck's turn to answer criticisms of his strike rate with his first Arsenal goal. Having played the ball out to Ozil on the left he galloped forward and had no trouble supplying a first-time finish to a return pass in exactly the area he wanted it.

Arsenal had barely paused for breath between the two goals, Villa had barely touched the ball, and Ozil and Welbeck's reputations had been restored as rapidly as the home sides hopes had been extinguished.

Small wonder Villa leaked another goal within a couple of minutes, Aly Cissokho turning Kieran Gibbs's low cross from the left into his own net.

Perhaps Villa were undermanned at the back - Ron Vlaar was unavailable again with a calf injury and Nathan Baker, outstanding at Anfield a week earlier, was one of several home players to fall victim to a virus - yet that should not detract from the quality of the first two Arsenal goals.

"Arsenal were clinical, but without making excuses we'd so much bad luck this week it's not true," said Paul Lambert, who has just signed a new contract as Villa manager.

"There's a virus going round that affected a lot of the players before and during the match. It's disappointing, but there's no point being down about it, you just have to take your medicine.

"We could have gone top of the league with a win, but 10 points from five games is still a good return."

Almost inevitably the rest of the afternoon was an anticlimax after such a flurry of excitement, settling back into the evenly contested ordinariness it had exhibited before Arsenal's ruthless streak.

While the game remained scoreless Ciaran Clark came closest to breaking the deadlock, finding space at the far post to meet an expertly delivered Tom Cleverley free-kick only for Wojciech Szczesny to spread himself and keep the header out. Cleverley's delivery from dead balls, indeed his general display, was one of the few positives Villa could take out of the game. The loan signing from Manchester United found Clark again with a second-half corner, yet just as the defender lined up a shot with the goal at his mercy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain threw himself at the ball to block.

Villa gave up the chase as Arsenal passed the ball around for the rest of the second half, with Ozil occasionally dropping back as deep as his own half in search of the ball and once or twice even attempting a tackle. Perhaps pointedly, Wenger left him on the field when making a triple substitution 12 minutes from time.

Ridiculously, that space of time was enough for Jack Wilshere to get himself booked, but that scarcely cast a shadow on Arsenal's afternoon.


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