Match Review - Arsenal 5 Aston Villa 0 - Premier League
Players are returning and finding match sharpness, the confidence is growing and we are all viewing the benefits on the pitch.
Aston Villa were blown away by a stylish Arsenal team who seem to have finally worked out who they are again. Since the start of the season we have looked a confused side, a side learning a new system as well as coping with repetitive injuries. Today though we are witnessing the Arsenal we hoped to see at the end of pre season.
At times this season, Arsenal's form hasn't exactly lead to to a high demand for Arsenal FC tickets on 1st4footballtickets.com and other football tickets sites, but we hit all the right notes against Villa and if the team can play this way - showing mental strength and tactical flexibility - for the rest of the season, we've got a great shot at taking third spot and even giving the top two a good scare.
But it's worth stating that, as good as Arsenal were on the day, Aston Villa were defensively equally as bad as we were good going forward. Did that even make sense? I don't know but I reckon you know what I mean.
Paul Lambert must have thought it was 1997 again as he set his team up with a high defensive line at the Emirates. We were barely beyond the first minute when Aaron Ramsey fizzed a pass through to Walcott to run onto but the England man was caught and had his shot blocked.
Özil's delightful flick along with Giroud's bending run saw the striker race clear and dink his finish over the advancing Villa keeper. You know you are defending badly when Giroud has a race from that far out and completes the finish without a challenge. While plenty of praise rightly goes to Mesut Özil for the sumptuous piece of improvisation, I think a lot of credit should also go to Giroud for a very stylish finish.
It was interesting to see us surrender possession after the opening goal. I could not work out if that was a conscious choice or whether or not we were pushed back. The former would make sense given the pace in the Villa front line and the space left in behind the Villa back four. We are creating much better chances by having less of the ball. The speed and precision of our passing allows the forward players chances that they do not find when hogging the ball and trying to squeeze in a chance through a crowded penalty box. This is not new, we were moving towards that way of playing last season. A season where we spent the most time at the top of the league and fell away when our best players fell away to injury. We should be better equipped to play this way in 2014/15
We certainly had our chances in the first half yesterday but just did not take them. This was different in the second half, Giroud's pass to Özil on the break was perfect and the German arrowed a shot into the corner for the second.
Theo Walcott intercepted Cazorla's through ball to Giroud to jink inside a defender and curl beautifully into the corner. Best piece of defensive work he did all day.
Chuba Akpom came on along with Tomas Rosicky and gave us all a hint of what he can do. His work rate and movement looked good but perhaps he was a little too eager to score. Understandable given the nature of the game and the time running out. It was nice to see his team mates trying to set him up.
While he could not quite find his goal on the day, he managed to race onto Ramsey's pass and get taken down in the box by the Aston Villa keeper. Santi's penalty would have been perfect for a diving keeper but Guzan did not dive, unfortunately for him he could only deflect the penalty into his own net. I hope Akpom signs that contract. Arsene has a pretty good record of developing young fast strikers. Arsene seems to have gone off the idea of Welbeck through the middle, at least since Giroud returned so maybe the only competition is Oliver Giroud who is in fine form but Akpom has time on his hands. It must have been a tad bittersweet to see his mate get on the scoresheet after trying so hard to do so.
I loved Bellerin's goal, the perfect icing on the cake. It was the Spaniard who won the ball back but intercepting a high ball, eventually Santi played the ball to him on the edge of the area and his side footed shot skipped across the surface into the corner of the net. It was a goal that clearly meant a lot to him as you could see in his celebration.
Bellerin's rapid improvement is very exciting to watch. I remember watching him in the Emirates cup and being amazed how he just did not show a hint of any nerves. At 19 he already has a better final ball and cutting edge in the final third than most in his position so I suspect his role will be important in many home matches in the future.
Injuries may have robbed us of part of our season so far but at the very least, it could have given us the chance to develop Hector Bellerin quicker than expected.
Santi Cazorla was once again the best player on the pitch. Scored the penalty, made the assist for Walcott, created a chance that Giroud headed onto the bar and hit the post with a left foot strike. He is in the zone at the moment and looks world class. Mesut Özil was also fantastic. I found it interesting watching him using his body to hold off challenges. Maybe it is just perception given his new stronger frame but I cannot remember him inviting so much contact before. I want to see our two most expensive signings on both flanks going forward and see how that looks. When we are fluid I don't think a wide starting position makes much of a difference for him, even if I like him coming in from the right more than the left.
Now that we don't have half a squad on the treatment table it is quick amazing to think of all the options we have at our disposal now. The great thing about that is that they all seem to understand what their roles are now.
Last season we defended well for most games and played a counter attacking game which lacked pace. This season we have more options, faster players and more goals in us. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds as the weeks go by.
Next up is the North London Derby and that will be a really tough game. A game that we will need to implement a game plan correctly to win. For now though, let's enjoy the win.
Check out the Arsenal Vision podcast if you have not already done so. Also you can catch last night's Q&A: Aston Villa (h) "I thought he was comfortably the best player on the pitch" - Q&A