ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger feels his side must focus on maintaining their consistency before turning attentions to a late challenge for the Barclays Premier League after dismantling goal-shy Aston Villa 5-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
Scorers: Arsenal - Giroud (8), Ozil (56), Walcott (63) Cazorla (pen 75), Bellerin (90)
The Gunners recorded a third straight league victory to close up on the top four and capitalise on Saturday’s draw between leaders Chelsea and champions Manchester City.
Arsenal were without leading scorer Alexis Sanchez because of a hamstring problem, but showed they are far from a one-man team.
Yet, despite the convincing way in which lacklustre Villa were despatched – with goals from Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, a Santi Cazorla penalty and a stoppage-time effort from Hector Bellerin – Wenger knows there remains plenty of hard work ahead.
“It is too early to say [Arsenal can still make a challenge for the title],” the Frenchman said. “We are 11 points behind – that means they need to lose four games and we need to win four. I believe that we should try to be consistent and see what happens. We have maybe found a better consistency. That will be very important until the end.
“Let’s show that we can win more and it shows you as well that, when the confidence level is higher and when everybody’s back defensively, it makes a difference.”
Wenger added: “Our offensive game was good, even though I believe we had some weaker periods in the game when Aston Villa were in possession. We looked dangerous when we got their lines and, defensively, we were sound as well. Overall it is a positive day for us.”
Ozil played a brilliant volleyed through-ball to release Giroud for Arsenal’s opening goal on eight minutes. The Germany playmaker has impressed since his return from a knee injury, also scoring last weekend in the FA Cup win at Brighton.
“Mesut still lacks a little bit of competitive edge on sharpness, but the quality of his game is exceptional,” Wenger said. “He worked very, very hard physically and he’s now ready to play again.”
Arsenal signed centre-half Gabriel Paulista last week from Villarreal, and the Brazilian was among the unused substitutes. Wenger is not expecting a hectic final 24 hours of the transfer window. “I don’t think I will be busy,” he said. “We have done what we wanted and, unless there is a huge surprise and somebody calls me, then why not? [But] at the moment, nothing. It’s very quiet.”
Villa boss Paul Lambert was left with plenty of thinking to do following another poor display, his side having last scored a Premier League goal against Manchester United on 20 December – more than 600 minutes of football ago.
He said: “You probably can’t print the things I am thinking. We have been in this position for too long. We do finishing and crossing in training every Friday, but when it comes on to the pitch you have to do it then. We are trying to get a goal and win a game, so we have to keep working hard.”
Lambert, whose side are just three points above the drop zone, added: “The keeper [David Ospina] made a good save from Andy’s [Weimann] header and then we had Christian’s [Benteke] chance, so those were big moments.
“I didn’t think we deserved to lose 5-0. However, it is the score so we have to take it, but it is not good enough.”
Arsenal, who head to Tottenham next weekend, started brightly as Aaron Ramsey fired wide from the edge of the Villa penalty area.
The visitors were cut open again on eight minutes as Arsenal took the lead. Ozil clipped an expert volleyed pass from the centre-circle over the high Villa backline, which allowed Giroud to race clear.
The France forward kept his composure, carrying the ball into the penalty area as Jores Okore tried to get back to cover, before chipping an angled, left-foot shot across Brad Guzan and into the bottom right corner.
Villa had settled into a spell of possession, without making progress in the final third, when Arsenal suddenly sprung into life again on 26 minutes.
Cazorla weaved to the edge of the Villa penalty area and sent a low shot goalwards, which beat Guzan but cannoned off the foot of the left-hand post.
Arsenal thought they had doubled their lead when Ozil exchanged passes with Cazorla in the right side of the penalty box before lashing the ball past Guzan. However, the assistant referee raised his flag against the Spaniard, who looked level in the build-up.
On 41 minutes, Villa were close to breaking their goal drought when a bullet header from Andreas Weimann was saved brilliantly at point-blank range by David Ospina, again preferred to Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.
After taking time to get into a rhythm again, Arsenal doubled their lead on 56 minutes. Walcott broke down the right, feeding Giroud in the centre. The France forward laid the ball off to Ozil rampaging down the left.
The German took one touch to set himself at the edge of the penalty area before clipping a left-foot finish into the bottom right corner.
Arsenal were in cruise control, and went 3-0 ahead with another quality finish on 63 minutes. Walcott collected a throw-out from Ospina, and darted forwards. He exchanged passes with Cazorla before taking the ball inside at the edge of the Villa penalty area and then dispatching it into the right corner.
Arsenal were awarded a penalty on 75 minutes when Guzan upended substitute Chuba Akpom. Cazorla struck his spot-kick down the middle of the goal, and although Guzan got a hand to the ball, he could not keep it out.