LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 24: Aston Villa's manager Alex McLeish reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villal at Emirates Stadium on March 24, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Arsenal welcomed Aston Villa to the Emirates today, and walked out comfortable (some might say too comfortable) winners 3-0 at full time thanks to first half strikes from Kieran Gibbs (the first of his Premier League career) and Theo Walcott, and a late unstoppable demonic free kick from Mikel Arteta.
How the action went down, after the jump.
Arsenal would get some tough news before the match began, as Laurent Koscieny's knee flared up in warmups, and he could not go. Johan Djourou stepped into his place, and Carl Jenkinson came onto the bench. The match kicked off, and not three minutes in, Djourou was down on the turf after Emile Heskey elbowed him in the nose.
Arsenal won a corner six minutes in, and Villa not only cleared but broke on a 3-on-3 from which Marc Albrighton decided to shoot rather than pass, clearing the bar. Two minutes later, Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna combined really well up the right, Sagna feeding van Persie, who laid it back for the oncoming Walcott, whose shot was saved. Sagna collected the spillage, but his shot was wayward. It was a great move, though.
Vermaelen headed over from a corner 14 minutes on. Stilyan Petrov earned a yellow for a tackle on Mikel Arteta a minute later before Arsenal combined up the left side, Gervinho doing good work to feed Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs took one touch in from the left towards goal and had a rip, and wouldn't you know, Shay Given couldn't keep it out, the ball squeezing past him into the net.
1-0 Arsenal, sixteen minutes gone, the first Premier League goal of Gibbs' career.
Play calmed down a bit from that point onwards; Villa were looking to counter through Albrighton, Arsenal were looking to break down illa's defense through Arteta and Rosicky, and play up the right through \ Walcott, who had an amazing first touch around Stephen Warnock.
His second amazing first touch, five minutes later, 25 minutes in, would be even more telling, Alex Song looping his trademark ball over the top, Walcott's first touch killing it, and his second burying it.
They continued to press Villa, and Arteta stung the palms of Given on 28 minutes with a rising drive from 20 yards. The match calmed down somewhat again, Villa still generating some threat through Albrighton, who took ever opportunity to get beyond GIbbs when the latter moved forward.
39 minutes in, Song and Robin van Persie linked up very well, the ball bouncing around the box in front of Alan Hutton and Given. van Persie's dragback to get it around the two of them was brilliant, and his shot looked destined to go into the empty net before Warnock made a superhuman intervention to head it off the line. It was very nearly 3-0, though.
The rest of the first half strolled along rather without incident. Gervinho took a slight knock to his left knee, but carried on, and the half came to a close.
The key for Arsenal would be to keep the tempo up and the pressing up early in the second half, and not let Villa back into the match at any point. The Gunners would open the half with a long spell of possession. 52 minutes in, Villa brought Gary Gardner on for Chris Herd. Rosicky won a free kick in a dangerous spot, but Arteta hit the wall. Arsenal broke forward on 57 minutes, Gervinho's low cross a little too far in front of Arsenal's onrushing attackers and out for a goal kick.
Arsenal were showboating just a little bit too much, but Villa weren't offering much threat. Nonetheless, when Villa won a free kick and then a corner on 67 minutes, it was a bit frustrating, because Arsenal were conceding possession unnecessarily. Andreas Weimann came on for Emile Heskey, and Arsenal brought Aaron Ramsey for Gervinho and Andre Santos for Kieran Gibbs. Santo's first contribution was to give the ball directly to Weimann in a dangerous position; luckily for Arsenal his square found nobody.
Ramsey's first contribution was a nice turn on the edge of the area and a shot well wide on 75 minutes.
77 minutes on, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on in place of Walcott. Eric Lichaj came on for Hutton.
Arsenal kept being sloppy. The Ox made a great run, only for a last-ditch wonder tackle from Stephen Ireland to deny him. The rest of the match consisted mainly of me yelling at my television, as Arsenal looked a little too complacent at times.
Then I yelled a bit more when Mikel Arteta put the cherry on the weirdo cake 93 minutes on by absolutely demolishing a free kick past Shay Given to make it 3-0. An Arsenal win to gain ground on both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Roll on, roll on.