Date: 1st February 2015 at 11:53pm
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I’ve heard a couple of post match comments along the lines that this wasn’t ‘a 5-0 game’. Considering that we also hit the woodwork twice and had what looked like a fair goal from Ozil unfortunately ruled offside there might be some truth in that, though that’s not the context in which such an observation appears to have been made.

I can understand what was probably meant because some of Villa’s play wasn’t that bad. Lambert’s tactics weren’t necessarily wrong, they showed ambition in pressing us with some determination, but they seem cursed in not really having players good enough to execute them. If anything Lambert still seems to be paying the price for O’Neill’s earlier insane and ultimately crippling profligacy. It isn’t as though Villa had been all that defensively weak this season. Prior to this game they had conceded fewer goals away from home than all but Southampton and Man City but really Arsenal didn’t always make the most of their chances, especially in the first half, and the score line could well have looked even more impressive from an Arsenal perspective and more depressive from a Villa view.

The stats show that Villa shaded possession but Arsenal players had more touches of the ball and only slightly fewer passes. In fact for most of the game we played on the principle of the shortest route being a straight line and much of our play was through the middle with Cazorla, Giroud, Walcott and Ozil all playing fairly centrally and drifting out to the flanks when space was needed. Villa played largely down the flanks but found themselves unable to get behind us that often and crossing early from wide areas allowing Mertesacker, Koscielny and Ospina to deal with the threat fairly comfortably.

In the first minute Ramsey picked out a through ball to put Walcott in on goal but a good blocking tackle prevented Theo from taking advantage of the early opportunity. Instead the first goal came 10 minutes later as a ball from Mertesacker was read perfectly by Ozil who, with the outside of his left foot deftly met the ball on the volley and dropped it in the right place with the right weight at the right time for Giroud to find himself on goal with only the keeper to beat. It was wonderful example of the subtle skill our record signing possesses. His is a different kind of flamboyance.

We continued to make chances in the first half and fail to take them and there’s always then a doubt whether we might suffer for doing so. Villa were always going to get at least one chance and late in the first half Weimann had a big opportunity to equalise but the excellent Ospina, who hadn’t really had a great deal to do in his other outings for us this season made an excellent save from the header. I had doubted the wisdom of dropping Szczesny feeling his performances hadn`t been that poor bar the mistakes in the Southampton game but Ospina seemed alert and positionally sound claiming a number of high balls. He was to make another great save in the dying minutes of the game to keep a confidence building clean sheet. It maybe the young Pole will have to wait a while before getting another chance between the sticks other than Cup games if Ospina maintains this form.

With our 5th clean sheet in the last 6 outings our defensive stability seems to have returned largely because selection stability has returned but Coquelin is also earning a lot of credit for his role in front of the back four. I have just watched an interview Wenger recently gave to Alan Smith and in acknowledging the upturn in Coquelin’s performances he reflects on the fact that he had always seen the young Frenchman as a ball winner. In the 7 years he has been on the books Wenger says he went through a period where, having won the 2010 U19`s Uefa championship with France, he saw himself as a box-to-box midfielder and neglected what Arsene saw as his core strengths for a time. With maturity Coquelin seems to have been persuaded where his talents lie and that in developing them he would develop as a player at the highest level. This was another match in which he tackled, intercepted, closed down and passed with maturity.

As I was beginning to think we would have to replace Walcott, who had only briefly appeared to flicker into life, Theo picked a loose ball up in the right back position and sprinting forward released Giroud who returned Ozil’s earlier assist playing in the sprinting midfielder who does what he does best and passed the ball at the right time, in the right place with the right pace into the back of the net.

Less than ten minutes later and Theo got on the scoresheet himself. An astute throw from Ospina had Theo sprinting down the left flank before playing the ball to Cazorla and then cutting inside to intercept Santi’s pass, probably intended for Giroud, and neatly curling a shot inside the far post.

With half a hour still to play Villa seemed resigned to defeat and it was just a matter of whether we could score more. Eventually Cazorla got on the scoresheet courtesy of a penalty won by an enthusiastic Akpom who had replaced Giroud. Cazorla hasn’t missed from the spot so far this season and has varied his placement on each occasion. At 3-0 it wasn’t exactly a pressure situation and he elected to put it down the middle. Guzan read it nearly right as he stayed put but instead of dinking it he leathered the ball. As he rocked back on his heels in surprise Guzan got a hand to it but the force of the shot meant he deflected it inside the post.

Another good afternoon for Cazorla was capped with his second assist as he set up his fellow countryman, growing in stature as a rookie right back, Bellerin for his first ever professional goal. It’s one he is bound to remember with some satisfaction.

Arsenal are on a good run but tough challenges still lie ahead. In his interview with Smudger Smith Wenger said that it was important to dispel the prolonged negativity that has surrounded the club for too long. The recent run of successes hopefully provide a platform from which to do just that.