Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 0

“Happy Days are Here Again,” ran the headline on the fanzines being sold outside Arsenal tube station, and indeed those green shoots of recovery seen over the past weeks are now in full bloom.

Arsène Wenger’s men made hay in the spring sunshine, brushing aside Villa with ease to chalk up their seventh successive league victory and increase their lead over bitter rivals Tottenham in the race for third place.

Yet it has to be said Villa were awful, especially in a first-half that was almost a masterclass in how not to defend.

When you are up against the most in-form side in the country, led by the league’s best striker, the last thing you should do is keep giving the ball away in your own half. But Villa’s players did exactly that with reckless abandon and found themselves two goals behind with barely a quarter of the game gone. There was to be no coming back after that point, as Alex McLeish admitted.

“If you play like that at the Emirates you are playing a dangerous game,” said the Villa manager. “We didn’t ask the players to do that – we asked them to play in their [Arsenal’s] half, but it didn’t happen. It’s about quality, and Arsenal have oodles of it.”

There has never been a doubt about the quality of Wenger’s squad, but their form and confidence dipped as low as 17th place last September. The turnaround since then has been remarkable, and especially over the past month when they have turned a ten point deficit into a three-point lead over Spurs.

“We needed our results and also results in our favour from our rivals. In the past month it has turned our way, so we have to make sure we keep the momentum,” said Wenger.

One major factor has been the return to form and fitness of full-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieron Gibbs, who opened the scoring in the 16th minute with his first league goal for Arsenal. When the left back raced into the area and on to Gervinho’s pass, there were plenty of Villa players between him and the goal. But Stilyan Petrov stepped aside obligingly, a space opened up, and Gibbs fired in a low angled shot that took a deflection off James Collins before going in off Shay Given’s hand.

Within 10 minutes Arsenal were 2-0 ahead. Not for the first time, Villa gave the ball cheaply to Gervinho, who passed it on to Alex Song. The midfielder’s chip forward fell perfectly for Theo Walcott, who left two defenders standing as he controlled the ball with one touch and placed it past Given with his second. Incredibly, this was the first time two Englishmen had scored in the same league game for Arsenal since 1997, when they beat Barnsley 5-2.

The Gunners should have scored more. Carlos Cuéllar made a great tackle to deny Walcott, Robin Van Persie had a shot headed away spectacularly by Stephen Warnock, and Mikel Arteta had a long shot tipped over the bar by Given. And that was before half-time.

Alex McLeish tightened up his defence after the break, and Arsenal’s chances were fewer. Villa even managed a little more pressure on the Arsenal goal as well, but Wojciech Szczesny did not have to make a save during the entire 90 minutes as the Gunners sauntered over the finishing line. Their joy was complete when Arteta finally found his range, smacking in a free kick from 35 yards in stoppage time.

With Tottenham and Chelsea having drawn earlier, this was the ideal result for Arsenal, who now look assured of third place and automatic qualification for the Champions League.

Happy days indeed.

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