Three fit-again players — Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott — who have missed much of this season through injury were the inspiration behind a win that moved Arsenal into the top five, six points behind second-placed Manchester City.
All three hit the net, along with a penalty from Santi Cazorla and a late fifth from Hector Bellerin, in a performance which barely required Wenger’s side to reach third gear. They did it without star striker Alexis Sanchez, without star midfielder Jack Wilshire and despite missing in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, first-choice right-back Mathieu Debuchy, captain Mikel Arteta and summer signing Danny Welbeck.
So what possible incentive is there for Wenger, who had new defender Gabriel Paulista on the bench, to spend big today?
Already he must be wondering how to select his team for next weekend’s crucial match at Tottenham, given that at least Sanchez and Welbeck will be available; and he may also reflect that once everyone is fit, he will have a selection headache rarely experienced at the Emirates.
What is encouraging for Wenger is not only that fit-again players such as Walcott and Ozil are returning to form quickly, but that fringe players forced into the team are starting to prove their worth. Francis Coquelin, the man who could save Arsenal from spending €30m on a holding midfielder, continued to impress while the pacy Bellerin looks increasingly comfortable. Cazorla— was again outstanding.
“It was a positive day,” said Wenger, whose side completed three wins in a row for the first time this season. I don’t think I will be busy on transfer deadline day; we have done what we wanted.”
Arsenal dominated early on going close through Walcott, and there was never any doubt they had the firepower to take three points despite spells when Villa held their own. The goal, when it came, was Route One with an Arsenal twist. A long pass by Per Mertesacker after eight minutes was exquisitely flicked on, first-time, by Ozil in the centre circle and Giroud’s dinked finish over Brad Guzan completed the move.
Cazorla hit a post while Aaron Ramsey saw a fierce effort spectacularly saved. But Wenger’s side almost paid for not finishing off their opponents when, out of the blue, Andreas Weimann’s header was well saved by Ospina on the break.
“That was a big moment for us,” said Villa manager Paul Lambert. .
“I was pleased with Ozil,” said Wenger. “The quality of his game is exceptional.”
The same could be said of Walcott, who scored his first Premier League goal in 14 months to make it 3-0. It was all his own work, the winger haring off down the left threading a pass inside to Cazorla and raced onto the return ball to curl home.
Chuba Akpom was brought down by Guzan and Cazorla finished the job from the penalty spot before a slide-rule finish by Bellerin in injury time completed the task.
ARSENAL: Ospina 7, Bellerin 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7, Coquelin 7, Ramsey 7 (Flamini 77), Walcott 7 (Rosicky 70), Cazorla 8, Ozil 7, Giroud 8 (Akpom 70). Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Gabriel, Chambers.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan 6, Hutton 6, Okore 5, Clark 5, Richardson 6, Delph 7, Gil 5, Sanchez 4 (Westwood 66;5), Cleverley 5 (Agbonlahor 76; 6), Benteke 5, Weimann 6 (Sinclair 66; 5). Subs: Baker, Bacuna, Cissokho, Given.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).