Arse­nal make it seven in row as Villa gift goals

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports News - SACHIN NAKRANI at the Emi­rates Sta­dium

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.

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