It wasn't always pretty, but the Gunners found a way against a counterattacking Villa side.
A somewhat discombobulated Arsenal side were able to overcome an Andreas Weimann equalizer late to pull out all three points today.
The Gunners started quickly, Jack Wilshere escaping up the left but electing to shoot from a wide angle rather than squaring to an open Theo Walcott on four minutes, but his teammates would make amends two minutes later as Santi Cazorla collected his own rebound from a Nathan Baker block to stroke home his opener, even as Brad Guzan got a hand to it. From that point forward, it was going to get a little hairy.
Arsenal increasingly started to misplace passes in the midfield, Abou Diaby and Wilshere both guilty, and Villa looked to break rather quickly every time this happened. Gabriel Agbonlahor had a shot saved ten minutes in from one of these counters, and five minutes later, both teams broke, the latter ending in an Agbonlahor "yard too short" miss of a cross. The game continued in much this pattern for a good chunk of the first half; Weimann ghosted past Nacho Monreal on the right for Villa and put a good cross in for Charles N'Zogbia, whose shot Wojciech Szczesny was able to save well. Arsenal continued to probe away in Villa's third before Villa would launch a counterattack. Carl Jenkinson increasingly came into the game and started to contain the runs of Agbonlahor up the right. Olivier Giroud had a good chance shortly before half-time, but Brad Guzan was there to save it.
The second half followed a similar pattern of end-to-end play as the first. Giroud should have squared instead of shooting on 50 minutes. Arsenal's counters were ragged, although their general attacking play in the final third was its usual self; Villa countered with much more precision, but couldn't find the final shot. Aaron Ramsey replaced Abou Diaby 61 minutes in, the latter sustaining a hip and a calf injury. Arsenal continued to pile on pressure but looked vulnerable from corner kicks, and 68 minutes in, they finally cracked.
Villa accelerated into yet another counter from an Arsenal corner kick, often finding themselves 4-on-3 for some absurd reason, and this one was all Weimann. He ran pretty much straight up the middle with options either side, but as nobody really closed him down, he simply let fly from 20 yards. Szczesny will be bummed that he got a hand to it but coudln't keep it out, and Villa had the equalizer that their counterattacking had foretold.
It was 1-1 with a little over 20 minutes to play.
Arsene Wenger decided that it was go time; he brought on Lukas Podolski in place of Jenkinson, Ramsey slotting in behind Walcott on the right and Cazorla moving to the middle. Arsenal won more corners (12 in all for the match); Giroud hit the bar on the 81st minute from one of them, when he should have done much better with his free header rather than hitting it straight at Brad Guzan. Arsenal would generate another chance two minutes later from which a goal would result 99% of the time as Wilshere found space on the right, crossed, and Podolski watched the ball come towards him and sort of did nothing rather than tap it in.
The pressure remained, however, and Wilshere collected the ball in the middle, chipped a lovely ball over the top for Monreal on the left, the Spaniard cutting it back, and this time Cazorla did what Giroud and Podolski didn't, and shot where Guzan wasn't (image courtesy of 7500 to Holte).
2 - 1, 84 minutes in. Arsenal would buckle down as Villa looked for a late equalizer. Laurent Koscielny replaced Walcott, crosses came in and were handled by Szczesny for the most part, and Arsenal were able to see out the match with a resounding long clearance from Thomas Vermaelen.
It had not been easy, Arsenal spurning chances and giving Villa far too much room on the counter, but it was over, and three points were in the bag.
For more on the match from a Villa perspective, check out 7500 to Holte.