Olivier Giroud caps ‘great week’ for leaders

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 2: Arsene Wenger has hailed a “great week”, after Olivier Giroud scored again and Arsenal followed up Champions League qualification with a climb to the top of the Barclays Premier League by comfortably beating rock-bottom Aston Villa.

Olivier Giroud caps ‘great week’ for leaders

Giroud, hat-trick hero of the Gunners’ all-important Champions League triumph over Olympiakos during the week, fired home his 50th Premier League goal to set up the win at Villa Park yesterday. That enabled them to climb above Manchester City and Leicester City in the title race.

The in-form Frenchman also played a part in the breakaway goal that was started and finished by Aaron Ramsey and which wrapped up the points for Arsenal and piled more misery on Villa, who have now gone 15 games without a win and are well-adrift at the bottom.

For Wenger, it was a bitter-sweet triumph over opposite number, Remi Garde, who was Wenger’s first signing as Arsenal manager and whom he encouraged to come back to English football to take over from Tim Sherwood at Villa.

“It has been a great week for us,” he exclaimed after the 2-0 win. “But, don’t worry, I’ve had my fair share of bad weeks already, so it balances itself out.

“I was a bit anxious today, because we had given a lot on Wednesday night and then we came back very, very late on Thursday morning. I knew that Villa was fighting for survival, so it was important to take the lead against a team low in confidence.

“The second-half was more difficult for us and we had to defend well. Maybe we were lucky with one or two opportunities for Villa, but, overall, it was a controlled performance.”

He added: “I believe Olivier is at the top of his game. He’s questioned some times, but the numbers get people to realise that he’s a quality player.

“I think he’s improved technically and his link-up play is better. He may not have electric pace or be a spectacular individual, but he’s a very efficient and an important player for this team. He is also mentally very strong, too.”

The outcome rarely looked in doubt, once Villa had given Wenger’s side a helping hand. Well, two, in fact, as Alan Hutton grappled with Theo Walcott inside the box.

Though there was a moment’s hesitation from referee, Kevin Friend, he eventually pointed to the spot for what was a clear penalty and the in-form Giroud was not going to let the opportunity go to waste, sending Brad Guzan the wrong way from the spot, for his 16th goal of the season and his 11th in the last 13 games.

Villa rarely threatened to hit back from that early blow, although Peter Cech flapped at a cross from Alan Hutton and was somewhat relieved that Jordan Veretout snatched at the chance with a wayward volley that flew harmlessly wide of the target.

In contrast, Arsenal looked likely to add to their early advantage every time they ventured into Villa territory, so it was no surprise when they grabbed a second.

Ramsey started and finished an excellent counter-attack, which carved open the home side’s defence and left him with a relatively simple close-range finish.

The energetic Welshman dispossessed Idrissa Gana with a tackle in his own half, and then burst forward to accept Mezut Ozil’s unselfish pass, after he had been released by Walcott and would have been quite justified in having a crack at goal himself.

Villa gave their long-suffering fans some cause to raise the decibels at the start of the second-half. They went close on a couple of occasions, Scott Sinclair squandering the best of them, when he sent his close-range header flashing over the top of the bar.

Leandro Bacuna was only fractionally too high with a long-range effort, which finished on the roof of the net, but, as the half wore on, Arsenal gained the upper-hand and once again looked the more likely scorers going into the final stage.

It was the fresh-legged substitute, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, who almost grabbed the third, as he weaved his way into a good position on the edge of the box, before firing a low shot that was deflected just wide of Guzan’s left-hand post.

ASTON VILLA (4-3-3):

Guzan 6; Hutton 6, Okore 5, Lescott 7, Bacuna 6; Veretout 7, Sanchez 6, Gana 6 (Grealish 77 mins); Sinclair 7 (Traore 86 mins), Gestede 6 (Gil 56 mins 6), Ayew.

Subs not used:

Bunn, Clark, Westwood, Lyden

ARSENAL (4-1-4-1):

Cech 6; Bellerin 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7; Flamini; Campbell 5 (Gibbs 63 6), Ramsey 8, Ozil 7 (Chambers 85), Walcott 6 (Oxlaide-Chamberlain 63); Giroud 7.

Subs not used:

Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Iwobi.

Referee:

K. Friend 7

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