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Match Report: Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa (Arsenal Fan's Perspective)

Sunday 25th March 2012
Arsenal strolled to a seventh successive league victory over a poor Aston Villa side on a glorious afternoon at Emirates Stadium.

A professional performance was delivered as The Gunners took full advantage of Tottenham and Chelsea dropping points against each other to tighten their grip on 3rd place, and open up a clear gap between themselves and their London rivals.

After wearing ‘Get Well Soon' tee-shirts in mid-week, a giant banner displaying an image of Fabrice Muamba was revealed prior to kick-off as the club continued to show support to the former Arsenal player. The football community has responded in the best possible way, and this was the latest touching gesture.

Laurent Koscielny injured himself in the warm-up and was replaced by Johan Djourou, a decision met with a collective groan from the home fans. However, the Swiss defender went down after just 90 seconds following an elbow from Emile Heskey. Following a change of shirt, he returned to the fray and, even if he had very little to do, didn't put a foot wrong. People seem to have forgotten his excellent displays last season, and are perhaps too quick to jump on the bandwagon of criticism. Granted, he's been poor this campaign but he has often had to play out of position and hasn't been allowed a run of games to build momentum.

Despite this stoppage in play, the hosts attacked with intent and vigour. One of the most notable things about this reformed Arsenal side is how quick they are out of the blocks. Too often in the past they have been sluggish and often paid the price for it. Thomas Vermaelen headed over early on before Theo Walcott was denied by Shay Given after good work by Robin Van Persie. The visitors were on the ropes, and shortly after, they were behind.

On 16 minutes, the industrious Gervinho found Kieran Gibbs on the left, who drove into the area and fired the ball into the net via the palms of Shay Given, who perhaps could have done better. The return of recognised fullbacks has been a cornerstone of Arsenal's recovery. Gibbs has quietly excelled since regaining his place in the side and it was encouraging to see a goal from an unlikely source.

Confidence was flowing through the veins of the Arsenal players and a second goal arrived not long after. Alex Song delivered what is becoming a trademark lofted through-ball but it was Walcott this time, not Van Persie, who was on the receiving end. Walcott's first touch was exquisite and his second was just as impressive as he slotted the ball inside the near post with aplomb. A terrific goal that epitomised everything about this current side: classy, clever, confident.

Chances were still being created. Van Persie screwed the ball well over after Gervinho's neat cut-back, and then Mikel Arteta's rasping drive was acrobatically tipped over by Given. Five minutes before the interval, Van Persie went desperately close to making it three.

Song burst through the middle and teed up the Dutchman who initially stumbled. Everyone in the ground seemed to think the chance had gone but the Gunners captain had other ideas. He rolled the ball away from Alan Hutton with his left foot beautifully and then shot with his right only to be denied by Stephen Warnock on the line.

The second half was a far more subdued affair as Arsenal seemed to drop down a gear and play with a little less urgency. They were comfortable but chances were few and far between. Tomas Rosicky tested the Villa keeper from distance before substitute Aaron Ramsey dragged a shot just wide. Then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, also unleashed from the bench, motored into the area and thought he should have been awarded a penalty. Replays showed that the tackle by Stephen Ireland, quite possibly Villa's only good performer, was perfectly timed and the ball was played. Andreas Weimann generated a couple of half chances for the visitors, but they never looked likely to score at any stage during the 90 minutes.

With the game fading out, a third goal was found in injury-time to reward the fans who stayed until the end. After Song was brought down 30 yards from goal, Arteta let fly with a stunning free kick that arrowed into the top corner.

It was as routine a win as they come but credit must still go to the Gunners who are in irresistible form. Against all odds Arsenal look set to secure an automatic Champions League place, a prize that seemed impossible to achieve little more than two months ago.

Man of the Match: Alex Song. Continued his role as an efficient defensive midfielder with some excellent challenges and interceptions but is also rapidly becoming an attacking weapon, as his eighth assist of the season demonstrated. Another fine all-round display.
Tom Pyman
Tom is a journalism student at the University of Sheffield and, more importantly, a passionate Arsenal fan. Too many players have come and gone to adopt a favourite but if he had to name one, it'd be difficult to look past Thierry Henry. Or Dennis Bergkamp. Or Freddie Ljungberg. Maybe not Park Chu-Young. He used to regularly attend home games but living three hours away has now made getting to the Emirates every other week a bit tricky. Follow Tom on Twitter @gooner_tom

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