Arsenal make it seven in row as Villa gift goals
THIS WAS a match filled with pleasing moments for Arsenal but their greatest satisfaction appeared to centre on what did not take place on a warm and windy afternoon in north London – a goal from Robin van Persie.
According to the giant black and orange banner draped high across the North Stand here, the Dutchman “scores when he wants”. Well, if that is the case, then he clearly decided to take the afternoon off against Aston Villa and leave it to others to get the required goals. Weeks ago, such a scenario could well have left Arsenal rudderless and blunt but they are a side reborn and, even without Van Persie’s potent touch, they eased to a seventh successive league victory for the first time since October 2007.
Those seven games, which started with a 7-1 mauling of Blackburn on February 4th and have taken in the seemingly seasondefining triumphs over Tottenham and Liverpool, reflect how Arsenal have evolved this season; from a team who at one stage found themselves 17th and requiring Van Persie to almost single-handedly drag them out of trouble on a weekly basis, to one who are not only winning consistently but with their verve and venom coming from a variety of sources.
Ten different players have contributed to the 22 goals Arsenal have scored in their winning run and while Van Persie’s seven is by far the largest share – he has 33 in total this season – and two others have come from the departed Thierry Henry, it should still encourage the club’s supporters that others have got involved.
Most startling is the impact made by defenders, with Thomas Vermaelen having scored twice in this period with Bacary Sagna and, on Saturday, Kieran Gibbs, also contributing. Laurent Koscielny also scored in the rousing 3-0 victory over Milan this month.
“We know it’s not good to rely on just one player,” said Gibbs, whose 16th-minute strike opened the scoring against Villa and was the 22-year-old’s second goal for the club. “He [Van Persie] is one of the best strikers in the world but I’m sure he’ll enjoy sharing the goals with the other players. We’re all aware of each other’s qualities. There’s Theo [Walcott], who’s been remarkable over the last couple of games, and then there’s the likes of Gervinho and [Aaron] Ramsey who can also change games. It’s good that everyone is chipping in.”
The praise for Walcott’s is warranted. So often criticised for his inability to land a knockout blow, the winger has been at the heart of Arsenal’s revival, scoring three goals in his past five games, the latest of which, a side-footed finish from Alex Song’s lofted pass, ended this as a contest after 25 minutes.
A late, lashed free-kick from Mikel Arteta sealed Arsenal’s win and saw the gap between themselves in third and Tottenham in fourth increase to three points. Arsene Wenger refused to deem that automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League had been secured but his mood was upbeat and optimistic.
Like Gibbs, Wenger also conceded Arsenal had allowed them- selves to become overly reliant on their captain and that was why Arsenal were focusing their attentions on signing Germany striker Lukas Podolski from Köln.
On the basis of their performance here, Villa could do with some world-class players of their own, although it is unlikely a side who sit 15th and show little prospect of climbing much further will be able to attract many, if any, high-calibre signings. Shorn of Darren Bent and Charles N’zogbia they may have been but it was still startling to see Villa play with such insipidness throughout. “the main thing is keeping [Arsenal] quiet and not gifting them goals. We gifted them goals today.” said Alex Mcleish, the Villa manager.