13th December 2015: Giroud and Ramsey send Arsenal top

Evening all. So goals by Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey secured Arsenal a 2-0 win over Aston Villa today, to send us top of the league and set us up very nicely indeed for the busy festive period to come.

The win at Villa Park capped a brilliant week or so for the club, in which we’ve managed three wins from three games, scored eight goals and conceded none. Not bad for a team missing several key players through injury. Not bad at all. And the cherry on our pre-Christmas schedule cake comes in the form of defeat for Manchester United yesterday and Tottenham today, plus dropped points for Liverpool too.

As expected, Arsene Wenger kept an unchanged starting line-up from last Wednesday’s win at Olympiacos but this time Theo Walcott started, and stayed, playing from the left flank with Joel Campbell on the other side. And after an opening period in which the hosts looked full of zest without creating anything of note, Mathieu Flamini clipped a delightful ball over their rampaging, and constantly-remonstrating, right-back Alan Hutton for Theo to latch onto.

Usually in a position like that, Theo tends to shy away from physical contact but not today. He showed great strength in a shoulder-to-shoulder with Hutton, bullied his way past his marker and intelligently cut across him only for the Scot to pull at Theo’s arm and concede as clear a penalty as you’ll ever see.

For a couple of moments it seemed, quite incredibly, that the referee would wave play on, but thankfully either his brain caught up with his eyes, or he received a little tip off via his headphones because he pointed to the spot. Giroud stepped up and confidently sent the keeper the wrong way to put us one-nil up with just eight minutes on the clock.

Half an hour later we doubled our lead in a move started and finished by Ramsey. Having won the ball in midfield with a well-timed tackle, the Welshman found Walcott who took his time and with team-mates pouring forward ahead of him, threaded the ball carefully through to Mesut Ozil. The German bamboozled Joleon Lescott with a classy body swerve, drew the keeper out towards him, before squaring the ball left to Ramsey who gleefully stroked it into an empty net.

The second half was fairly uneventful and I thought we looked a little jaded physically, which was far from surprising given we traveled to Greece during the week. The boss clearly saw the drop off in intensity too and reacted by making a double substitution, replacing Walcott and Campbell with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just after the hour mark. He then gave Ozil a little breather with five minutes to go, sending on Calum Chambers in his place to add a little more ballast to central midfield.

After the game, Arsene gave his take on proceedings to Arsenal Player, saying:

I’m very proud and happy of the spirit we show. That’s what people want to see. There’s a strength and togetherness coming out of the team that people feel and that’s the biggest satisfaction. It’s the best basis to make results. It was a convincing performance overall. In the first half we dominated the situation very well and got two goals. In the second half it was a bit more difficult physically because we gave a lot on Wednesday night and you could see that the legs were a bit tired. But overall we have shown maturity, didn’t give a goal away and came home with what I believe was a convincing win. It’s a great week – Sunderland, Olympiacos and today. We’ve scored eight goals and I think it was a fantastic week. I would like to give credit to the team for their mental approach to the games. It’s absolutely fantastic.

So we sit merrily top of the table at least until after tomorrow evening’s game between Leicester and Chelsea, and we can now look ahead to City’s visit to Emirates stadium a week tomorrow off the back of another win, another clean sheet and with the possibility, however slight at this stage, that our mercurial Chilean Alexis Sanchez might be back from his hamstring injury to face Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

Til tomorrow, league-leaders.

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