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Arsenal Run Through Their Repertoire Against Game-But-Limited Aston Villa

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LONDON – As Arsenal’s players left the pitch at the final whistle amid a chorus of applause, one thought quickly sprang to mind: they’ve done this without Alexis Sánchez. The Gunners top-scorer and undisputed player of the season was absent with a hamstring injury, yet the side still sparkled. Five goals were scored by five players in a collective showing of devastating ruthlessness and one which adds fuel to the belief that Arsène Wenger’s men will yet again clinch a place in the Premier League’s top four.

They sit in fifth and, after Southampton’s defeat by Swansea City, are level on points with Ronald Koeman’s side. Crucially, Arsenal have won three successive league fixtures for the first time this campaign, as well as showing a thrilling thirst for goals, with this rout making it 13 scored in their last four outings in all competitions. Sánchez will only add to the potency upon his return.

If that is a chilling thought for those teams battling with Arsenal for a Champions League place, some hope can be taken from Aston Villa’s performance here. The visitors controlled proceedings for large spells, overall enjoying 52% of possession, and had Andreas Weimann or Christian Benteke made more of their close-range efforts either side of half-time, when Arsenal were only 1-0 up, things could have been very different. As Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, observed: “It was a strange game, never a 5-0 game.”

Yet ultimately here was proof that when Arsenal are in the mood there are few, if any, sides in the country better equipped at slicing through opposition, with their first three goals, scored by Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott, all coming in blink-of-an-eye breakaway surges.

The first was arguably the best. With Villa pressing aggressively and high up the pitch, Per Mertesacker hooked the ball into midfield where Özil moved it on to Giroud with a sumptuous first-time, over-the-shoulder flick. The Frenchman had a clear path towards goal and with defenders rushing back into position, he kept his cool and lifted the ball over the outrushing Brad Guzan.

The second, on 56 minutes, came after another attack from Villa, who were admirably attempting to halt a woeful run of five games without a goal. Özil and Giroud swapped roles, with the latter feeding the German after Walcott had won possession. Özil, coming infield from the left wing, finished coolly for his second goal in as many games.

By the time Walcott made it 3-0 just after the hour mark with a first-time shot, having quickly exchanged passes with Santi Cazorla, the game was all but over as a contest. Lambert was left to rue what might have been had Weimann directed his header from Carles Gil’s cross just before the break further away from the reach of David Ospina, and Benteke done more to test the Arsenal goalkeeper with an unmarked drive soon after play had resumed.

Even Wenger had sympathy for the visitors. “I feel a bit for Villa because they gave a lot,” said the Frenchman. “The second goal was a real blow for them but overall they fought very hard.

“But in general our offensive game was good today. We always looked dangerous when we got through their lines, and defensively we were sound as well. This was a positive day for us.”

Of that there was no doubt and Arsenal, as their manager stated, caught the eye with their sturdiness at the back and with their ruthlessness in attack. Francis Coquelin again impressed as a holding midfielder while the four defenders behind him also generally looked assured. Watching from the bench, the new £11.3m Brazilian centre-back Gabriel Paulista may have wondered how and when he will get into this side.

Cazorla, who was yet again outstanding for the hosts, made it 4-0 with a less-than-outstanding penalty on 75 minutes, with Héctor Bellerín’s low finish in stoppage time putting the cap on what was the first occasion this season that Arsenal had scored five times in a match. Next is Saturday’s north London derby: sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur versus fifth with both teams in encouraging form; it promises to be some clash.

For Aston Villa, it is now eight league games without victory and, as part of that spell, a little over 10 hours without a goal. For all the positives they can take from this fixture, that is a desperate run and with Chelsea to come next, the rot is unlikely to halt soon. In the circumstances it was no surprise to hear Lambert suggest that having signed Scott Sinclair on loan from Manchester City last week – he made his debut as a second-half substitute here – he is looking to add to the squad before Monday’s transfer deadline.

“You can’t print what I’m feeling at the moment,” said the Scot. “We don’t want to be in this position – we’ve been in it for too long. All we can do is keep persevering and working hard. There are still twists and turns to come this season.”

Man of the match Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) – The Guardian

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