Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
Arsenal hauled themselves back into the title race on Sunday as
super-sub skipper Cesc Fabregas scored twice in a 3-0 win over
The Spaniard, who had been out with a hamstring problem, came
off the bench after 57 minutes at the Emirates Stadium and soon
netted a superb free-kick, then added a fine breakaway goal before
being substituted as a precaution.
Abou Diaby netted a third in stoppage time, curling in a low
effort from the edge of the area after a powerful run.
Villa – who had already beaten Chelsea, Manchester United and
Liverpool this season – looked dangerous on the break but could not
make the most of their best spell of pressure midway through the
Arsene Wenger’s men are now just four points behind leaders
Chelsea, and with a match in hand on the sides around them – a
position which looked inconceivable following their defeat here
against the Blues at the end of November.
The hosts started brightly and Brad Friedel saved well from
defender Thomas Vermaelen at the far post following a corner,
before Croatia striker Eduardo shot straight at the Villa keeper
after collecting the ball from Diaby and turning in the box.
However, Villa – winners at Old Trafford just before
Christmas – are a well-organised unit under Martin O’Neill and the
physical presence of England forward Emile Heskey caused the
Arsenal defence cause for concern.
Following a swift counter-attack by the visitors, Ashley
Young saw his shot deflected behind off Alex Song. The Cameroon
midfielder – set to head off to the African Nations Cup next month
– was lucky to only get a stern talking to by referee Phil Dowd
after hauling down Heskey as Villa looked to break quickly again.
From the resulting free-kick, Villa had the ball in the net, but
only after Richard Dunne bundled into Manuel Almunia, the effort
correctly ruled out for the foul on the Arsenal keeper.
Arsenal, though, were soon back on the offensive, with
Nasri’s dipping effort deflected over and Song then just off target
from the resulting corner.
Denilson was bundled down right on the edge of the penalty
area but the Brazilian’s effort hit the wall, then Bacary Sagna’s
follow-up flew over.
At the start of the second half, Diaby’s run down the right
was halted by Young, who picked up a yellow card for his troubles
which rules the forward out of the Liverpool game on Tuesday.
Eduardo’s deep free-kick was pushed away by Friedel before
the Villa defence scrambled the ball off their goalline following a
With 33 minutes left, Denilson was replaced by Fabregas.
Eduardo was unfortunate to see his close-range effort cleared by
Warnock after a clever exchange with Andrey Arshavin down the left.
Friedel then denied the Russian with a full stretch save
after Fabregas had weaved into the area, and Dunne cleared as
Eduardo looked to knock the loose ball in.
On 65 minutes, Arsenal were awarded a free-kick 23 yards out
when Dunne tripped Fabregas – and it proved costly as the Spaniard
stepped up to curl a sublime effort up over the wall and into the
top left corner.
Arsenal were lifted by the goal and looked full of confidence
as they poured forward – and fittingly, the skipper helped Arsenal
wrap up the points.
In the 81st minute, after a spell of Villa pressure, Traore
hit a long diagonal pass out to Theo Walcott on the right. The
substitute dashed forward before touching the ball into the path of
the onrushing Fabregas, who swept home a 12th goal of the season.
The Spaniard, though, appeared to have aggravated his
hamstring problem and was replaced by Aaron Ramsey for the closing
Almunia made a brave save to deny Gabriel Agbonlahor, before
Diaby netted Arsenal’s third goal in stoppage-time, finishing low
from the edge of the area.