Why Arsenal fans can smile again thanks to Santi Cazorla
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Premier League: Arsenal 2 Aston Villa 1
Finally Arsenal fans had reason to smile after their tortuous week as Santi Cazorla’s double strike sealed three welcome points against Aston Villa.
Cazorla’s winner five minutes from time saw the Gunners close to within a point of fourth-placed Spurs, who travel to West Ham on Monday night, and kept the wolves from the door of Arsene Wenger after another painful week for the club.
For 20 minutes it looked as though the pressure on the Frenchman was going to increase after Andreas Weimann’s equaliser drew animosity from the disbelieving Gunners fans.
But Cazorla buried a low chance after a cross from Nacho Monreal to clinch what is a third successive Premier League win for the Gunners.
With the visit to White Hart Lane on Sunday Arsenal’s next game, this was a much-needed confidence boost after the twin defeats to Blackburn and Bayern Munich had seemingly devastated their season inside a week.
After all the doom and gloom since Tuesday, Wenger was probably just glad to be concentrating on football again, and he made a number of changes from the side which had been so comprehensively beaten by Bayern.
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Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey dropped to the bench as Abou Diaby came into midfield and Olivier Giroud returned up front, pushing Theo Walcott back to the right flank.
In defence there were changes in both full-back positions as Monreal, ineligible in the Champions League, returned at left-back and Carl Jenkinson replaced the injured Bacary Sagna on the right.
After such a chastening week, it felt a good start to this game was imperative to the Gunners, and the Emirates crowd were not disappointed as Arsenal started attacking from the outset.
Jack Wilshere had already had a sight of goal when Cazorla struck after just six minutes. There was an element of good fortune to the goal, as the Spaniard’s first attempt ricocheted back to him and he hit a low, swerving effort that beat Brad Guzan and nestled in the net.
Any thoughts that the early lead was a platform for dominance, however, were soon disproved. Villa looked threatening in attack and were aided by the fact that Arsenal developed a nasty habit of losing possession.
Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert to keep out an effort from Gabriel Agbonlahor and then made a better save to deny Christian Benteke. With those two and Charles N’Zogbia, Villa carried a genuine threat.
Arsenal struggled to create openings for the rest of the half. Giroud wastefully shot into the side-netting after dribbling wide of Guzan, while Wilshere was crowded out a Villa responded well to the considerable threat of falling a goal behind so early at the Emirates.
The visitors were very much still in the game, a point they underlined early in the second half when Ciaran Clark headed over from a corner when he probably should have hit the target.
But the Gunners looked dangerous too, Giroud flashing a header across goal after some fine work by Monreal on the left flank, and Wilshere saw an effort deflected over the crossbar.
Villa have been conceding goals all season from set-pieces, but Arsenal could not exploit that weakness with Giroud and the lumbering Per Mertesacker failing to direct efforts goalwards.
The Gunners were forced into a change when Diaby limped off just past the hour mark, again failing to last the distance and seeming to succumb to injury, and Aaron Ramsey came on in his place.
Arsenal were still pressing for a second goal, but then got hit on a classic counter-attack from one of their own corners.
With Mertesacker and Vermaelen in the Villa box, the visitors cleared to the halfway line. Jenkinson failed to properly clear his lines and Benteke fed the ball to Weimann who advanced into his stride before striking a low drive which seemed to go through Szczesny’s hands en route to finding the net. The Polish goalkeeper looked at his defenders, but the mistake was his and it is about time the 22-year-old started to accept that fact and work on cutting out such basic errors.
Immediately the Emirates crowd turned on their team. The disappointments of the past week simply did not allow for any further indiscretions in this game. Yet their side were again left chasing a goal to save themselves.
Wenger threw on Lukas Podolski for Jenkinson and Ramsey switched to right-back. Arsenal were going for it and Podolski twice failed to get on the end of crosses with the goal at his mercy.
With five minutes remaining, Villa’s resistance faltered. Monreal burst clear down the left again and this time his cut back was in the perfect place and Cazorla swept the ball beyond Guzan.
The Arsenal faithful breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then prepared themselves for a nervous finish to the game.
But Villa were spent and could offer little. And news of Norwich’s comeback win over Everton completed a welcome day of good news for Wenger and his side.
Silverware may well prove beyond them again, but the top four is within touching distance ahead of what promises to be a hugely significant derby clash on Sunday week.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson (Podolski, 76), Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Diaby (Ramsey, 61), Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Walcott (Koscielny, 89), Giroud.
Subs not used: Mannone, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Baker, Bennett, Delph, Westwood (El Ahmadi, 72), N’Zogbia, Weimann, Benteke (Dawkins, 82), Agbonlahor.
Subs not used: Marshall, Holman, Sylla, Bowery, Lichaj.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire)