LONDON (AFP) – Arsenal increased their advantage in the race for Champions League football after two first-half goals helped them to a deserved 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
Arsene Wenger’s men made it seven wins in a row after Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott struck early on, before Mikel Arteta completed the scoring in added on time of the second-half.
But more significantly, the Premier League’s form side stretched their lead over nearest rivals Tottenham, who are in fourth place, to three points and eight points over fifth-placed Chelsea.
There was little doubting this result against a struggling Aston Villa side not completely safe from being sucked into a relegation battle themselves.
The only blot on the copybook was the home side’s failure to score more goals. In the end, they settled for Gibbs and Walcott’s early strikes and another win that never looked in question.
Besides an early scare when Marc Albrighton blazed over the crossbar in the seventh minute, Arsenal were in complete control.
Walcott almost drew first blood as the England international collected Robin van Persie’s backheel before bringing out a fine save from Shay Given.
But the Irish goalkeeper would soon be beaten thanks to Gibbs’ first ever Premier League goal with 16 minutes on the clock.
Gervinho’s pass found the left-back in acres of space and his low shot proved too hot to handle for Given.
Gibbs, whose only other goal had come in a League Cup tie earlier this season, might have been the unlikely hero. But the fact he was so advanced up the pitch was an indication of Arsenal’s attacking intent.
In this mood, not many teams can live with Arsenal, let alone a struggling Villa side. So it was no surprise to see the lively Walcott increase Arsenal’s lead in the 25th minute.
Alex Song showed great vision with a pinpoint ball over the visitors’ defence where Walcott’s fine control presented him with the routine finish beyond Given.
Not that Arsenal were ready to rest on their laurels. Villa just couldn’t live with the pace and movement and van Persie wasted a glorious chance after Thomas Vermaelen’s cross somehow reached him.
Another sweeping attack saw Arteta’s 25-yard shot tipped over by the ex-Manchester City stopper.
Next it was the turn of van Persie to cause further problems, when he was denied a certain goal by Stephen Warnock’s headed clearance of the line after quick feet had carved out the opening.
It promised to be a long afternoon in the London sunshine. Aston Villa had little outlet going forward with Darren Bent sidelined long-term and Charles N’Zogbia discarded all together.
Arsenal, as they coasted through, appeared to have complacency as their biggest threat of surrendering their two-goal advantage.
The pace of the game, and the amount of chances, had certainly dropped off.
In fact, it took until the 65th minute though until Given was next tested, when Tomas Rosicky made room for himself before his 25-yar shotd was turned aside by Given.
Arsenal, as they chased further goals to boost their goal difference, were just playing out time.
Arteta added a third with a 30-yard free-kick as the Gunners eased to the most comfortable of victories in the London sunshine.
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