Arsenal reclaim top spot after 17-second Villa blitz
Two first-half goals in less than a minute are enough to put the Gunners back on top
Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2. Seventeen seconds of sweet football was enough for Arsenal to leapfrog Manchester City and Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League. Two first-half goals, the first from Jack Wilshere and the second from Olivier Giroud gave the Gunners a comfortable lead, but a diving header from Christian Benteke – his first goal since September – on 75 minutes ensured the visitors endured an anxious last fifteen minutes.
They held on to extend their unbeaten record at Villa Park to 15 matches, going back to December 1998, but more importantly the three points means that the Gunners now have 48, one ahead of City and two more than Chelsea.
"It was a big win for us, it was about two different halves," reflected Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "The first half was about playing our game with the speed of our passing and controlling the game. The second half was more about fighting, I felt it was down a little bit to... a different style from Villa who played three through the middle and a very direct game. Maybe we were a bit too cautious just to keep the 2-0. But it was about fighting and our defenders kept us in the game."
Wenger's relief, however, was tempered by injuries to Tomas Rosicky and Nacho Monreal. While the Czech midfielder left the field with a suspected broken nose after a collision with Fabian Delph's elbow, Monreal will undergo scans this morning to determine the extent of a foot injury.
Aside from another composed performance from Arsenal's central defenders, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, it was Jack Wilshere who did more than most to ensure the Gunners came away from Villa Park with the three points, revelling in his central midfield role in the absence of Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta.
After an exchange of passes between Mesut Ozil and Monreal, the Spaniard slid the ball across the area for Wilshere to fire home on 34 minutes. The goal stunned Villa, who had done well to contain Arsenal after Nathan Baker was earlier stretchered off the field with concussion, and the hosts were still dazed from the kick-off. They immediately gave away possession to Wilshere, who picked out Olivier Giroud with the deftest of passes. The Frenchman did the rest, sending a low shot past Brad Guzan for his ninth league goal of the season.
"He has found his change of pace back," said Wenger of Wilshere later. "His game is about that and his penetration because he's not only a passer but he's a guy who is incisive with the ball."
Benteke's goal turned out to be nothing more than a consolation as Arsenal stretched their unbeaten league streak to five matches and kept their noses in front of the chasing pack.