Possession is nine-tenths of the law; or at least that’s how the expression goes. Today the edict didn’t play out for Aston Villa. They played a tight game and, for much of the time, they played it well. Maybe they played it too tight. When Arsenal managed to work the ball through the gaps Villa were caught short and Arsenal were left with an open field.
In the first minute of the game Aaron Ramsey successfully directed the ball behind Villa’s defence and Theo Walcott ran with it. Unfortunately Walcott’s shot was deflected off target by Jores Okore. Five minutes later Nacho Monreal’s ball found Ramsey on the edge of the box but his shot was just wide of the goal. Then Mesut Özil flicked the ball to Oliver Giroud, he ran with it, fumbled with the ball (I actually thought he’d lost a golden goal-scoring opportunity at that point) before sending the ball over Brad Guzan’s head and into the net. In the eighth minute we were 1-0 up!
Aston Villa also had opportunities during this period. In the third minute Fabian Delph sent a shot from outside the box wide of the goal face, whilst the seventh minute saw a cross into the box by Kieran Richardson but David Ospina was able to claim it with ease. After Giroud’s opening goal both teams saw action in the box at their respective ends but the ball was either cleared or intercepted by opponent players. By the 23rd minute Arsenal’s possession of the ball stood at 49% compared to Villa’s 51%. The next on target shot came from Santi Cazorla in the 27th minute; after a run with the ball, Cazorla aimed, took fire but the ball hit the crossbar. A mere three minutes later Mesut Özil found the back of the net but only after the flag went up for offside against Cazorla. In the 34th minute it’s Christian Benteke’s turn at goal but his shot is blocked by Per Mertesacker and cleared by Hector Bellerin. Özil then finds Ramsey who sends a volley straight at Guzan and the shot is saved by his waiting palms. For the next few minutes there’s plenty of pressure from Arsenal in the box until play is temporarily stopped while Giroud seeks medical assistance after an aerial collision with Okore. The Frenchman is very soon back on his feet and the pitch. In the dying minutes of the first half Villa’s Andreas Weimann had a great opportunity to score but his header was parried by Ospina. When the half-time whistle is blown, possession is 48% to Arsenal and 52% to Aston Villa.
You have to give Aston Villa credit where credit is due. They certainly came back onto the pitch and into the second half of the game with a fighting spirit. Could this be down to the fact that this season Aston Villa had previously lost all seven Premier League matches in which they have trailed at half time? Maybe they knew with the scoreline standing at 1-0 they were still in with a chance and the game wasn’t yet over for them. Benteke sent a shot wide in the 46th minute as well as a header in the 50th minute. Villa’s possession in the first ten minutes of the second half soared to 87%! When Giroud repays Özil’s first-half assist in the 56th minute, Özil runs with the ball, finds himself on a one-to-one with Guzan, takes a shot and the ball slides into the corner of the net. It wasn’t the strongest of shots but the end result was all that mattered. Both Arsenal and Aston Villa immediately start building up the pressure again. A Fabian Delph long-range shot is saved by Ospina in the 63rd minute earning Villa a corner. After two clearances in the Villa box we’re suddenly on the attack again and almost out of nowhere Theo Walcott is on the ball and between him and Cazorla they carve Villa’s defence apart. Walcott scores in the 63rd minute – his first Premier League goal for Arsenal in 396 days and also the 50th league goal of his career! Guzan, understandably, is left frustrated with his defenders.
The first Villa substitutions are made in the 65th minute: Gabriel Agbonlahor for Tom Cleverly and new signing Scott Sinclair for Andreas Weimann. At this moment in time I wonder whether Sinclair will score his debut for Villa. Possession now stands at 45% to Arsenal versus 55% to Aston Villa. A 69th minute Cazorla free kick, from a yellow card offence by Carles Gil, crosses into the box where it finds Giroud’s head. Unfortunately his header finds the bar. A minute later the second round of substitutions take place. This time it’s Arsenal. Walcott leaves the field to be replaced by Tomas Rosický and Giroud is replaced by Chuba Akpom. A couple of clearances later Akpom dribbles past his opponents and tears down the field towards goal completely unmarked. By this time Guzan realises he can’t rely on his defenders, comes out of goal and in his enthusiasm brings down Akpom in the penalty area. Up steps Cazorla to take the penalty and calmly slots the ball past Guzan. It’s the 75th minute and it’s 4-0. Carlos Sánchez, who most of the match had been unable to find his own men in their supposed formation, was substituted by Ashley Westwood, while Ramsey was replaced by Mathieu Flamini.
A few minutes later (81st) Gil takes a direct free kick but his shot goes wide. Thereafter any shots that make it through both Arsenal’s and Villa’s defence are blocked. In the 86th minute Mertesacker sends a cross into the box and Akpom sends a header towards the goal, only for it to be saved. By the 88th minute even the Arsenal defence are attempting a shot at goal. Immediately after Özil dribbled the ball the past the Villa defenders and had his shot blocked, Monreal had a shot deflected off target. Then, in added time, Akpom is at it again! He has a low shot saved by Guzan in the 90th minute but within 60 seconds Bellerin fires from outside the box, the ball hits the inside post and ricochets into the back of the net. It’s his debut goal for Arsenal and Cazorla gets credited with the assist, his second of the game. The Villa players haven’t stopped fighting the tide and in the final minute of the match they’re back in their own half. Alan Hutton sends a cross into the box which Mertesacker clears. Westwood’s volley is saved by Ospina and the final corner of the match sees Westwood swing the ball in from the left only to be claimed by Ospina. At the final whistle Arsenal claim a 5-0 victory over Aston Villa and overall possession of the ball comes down to 48% versus Villa’s 52%.
It’s Arsenal’s biggest win in two and half years and it’s the first time Arsenal have beaten Villa three times in a row for a decade. Aston Villa set themselves a new club record by failing to score a goal in six matches.