ASTON Villa went into this game knowing they would go top of the league with a victory. They came out of it chastened, their presumption mercilessly exposed, grateful only that 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 Villaâ€™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 sideâ€™s reach, and that would have been remarkable enough after an evenly matched first half-hour that produced little goalmouth incident.
Arsenalâ€™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 Ã–zil practically invites criticism, and has been getting it in spades since the Dortmund defeat, through not even appearing interested in his teamâ€™s fortunes or his personal contribution. Gunners fans have been imploring ArsÃ¨ne Wenger to drop him, and the manager must have been tempted, yet not only did he leave him in the team and give Alexis SÃ¡nchez a rest he played him in his favoured No10 position and was handsomely rewarded. First by Ozilâ€™s cool finish for his first Arsenal goal of the season, gliding on to Danny Welbeckâ€™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 Welbeckâ€™s turn to answer criticisms of his strike rate with his first Arsenal goal. Having played the ball out to Ã–zil 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 Ã–zil and Welbeckâ€™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 Gibbsâ€™s low cross from the left into his own net. Perhaps Villa were undermanned at the back â€“ Ron Vlaar was unavailable again with a calf injury and Nathan Baker, outstanding at Anfield a week ago, was one of several home players to fall victim to a virus â€“ yet that should not detract from the quality of the first two Arsenal goals.
â€œArsenal were clinical, but without making excuses we had had so much bad luck this week itâ€™s not true,â€ said Paul Lambert, who has just signed a new contract as Villa manager. â€œThereâ€™s a virus going round that affected a lot of the players before and during the match. Itâ€™s disappointing, but thereâ€™s no point being down about it, you just have to take your medicine.
â€œWe could have gone top of the league with a win, but 10 points from five games is still a good return.â€
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 showed their 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. Cleverleyâ€™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 unhurriedly for the rest of the second half, with Ã–zil 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 the end.
Ridiculously, that short space of time was enough for Jack Wilshere to get himself booked, but that scarcely cast a shadow on Arsenalâ€™s afternoon. It had finally proved one of Ã–zilâ€™s better days, and quite a relief for his manager too. â€œHe prefers to play in the middle, and he responded very well,â€ Wenger said. â€œBut it is not always easy to strike the right balance. I can find you 10 other players in my squad who want to play the same role.â€ – The Guardian