Top Gunners triumph at Villa

The Gunners looked to be cruising to victory on Saturday after

dominating the opening 45 minutes and netting through Andrey

Arshavin and Samir Nasri. But Villa were transformed in the second

period and Ciaran Clark struck twice either side of Marouane

Chamakh’s 10th goal of the campaign before Jack Wilshere’s

injury-time clincher. It enabled Arsene Wenger’s side to end an

unhappy week on a high note after the derby defeat by Tottenham and

the Champions League setback away to Braga. Arsenal played some

superb flowing football with Arshavin and Nasri a constant threat.

But their soft under belly, which had seen them throw away a

two-goal lead against Spurs, was almost exposed again. Ashley Young

posed more of a threat in the second period while Clark showed his

potential. Arsenal were almost gifted the lead in the opening 30

seconds after sloppy play by Stephen Warnock. He played the ball

straight into the path of Arshavin who released Chamakh inside the

box. Villa keeper Brad Friedel partially blocked the shot but it

needed James Collins to make a goal-line clearance. The Gunners

were first to settle and Tomas Rosicky squandered a clearcut

opening. Nasri was the creator with a perfectly weighted pass to

leave Rosicky with only Friedel to beat but he drilled his shot

across the face of goal. The Villa midfield was being by-passed by

the quality passing and movement of Wenger’s side. Arsenal

continued to dominate and Friedel saved from Rosicky away to his

right although he did not make full contact on his shot. Villa were

being pulled apart almost at will and Arshavin had a shot deflected

for a corner after exchanging passes with Chamakh. Nasri dragged a

shot just past the post as the home side hung on desperately. It

was 26 minutes before Villa created a worthwhile chance – and

Ashley Young should have given them the lead. Stewart Downing’s

dangerous, inswinging centre found it’s way to Young unmarked

inside the six yard box at the post but he sent his shot over the

bar. Vill tried to get a foothold in the game and Laurent Koscielny

had to be alert to cut out a dangerous cross from the overlapping

Warnock after good play by Bannan. But it was no surprise when

Arshavin put the Gunners ahead after 39 minutes. Arshavin picked

the ball up on the left and cut inside and past the challenge of

Richard Dunne before firing a low shot into the far corner of the

net. Nasri could have made it 2-0 a minute later when he slipped

the ball wide of Friedel but drilled his effort into the side

netting. Friedel made a superb save to keep out Chamakh’s header

from Bacary Sagna’s cross. But a minute before half-time Nasri made

it 2-0 with a superb volley direct from Arshavin ‘s corner.

Houllier opted for a half-time change with Nathan Delfouneso

replacing Robert Pires and giving support up front to John Carew.

After 52 minutes Clark reduced the arrears with his first senior

goal for the club. Bannan’s cross was only half cleared by

Sebastien Squillaci to Clark on the edge of the box and his

left-footed drive flew past Lukasz Fabianski into the roof of the

net. Villa were transformed after their ineffective first half

performance but in the 56th minute Chamakh restored Arsenal’s two

goal advantage. Rosicky played the ball into the path of the

striker who managed to flick the ball under Friedel’s body.

Houllier brought on Stephen Ireland for Carew after 66 minutes.

Clark had a golden chance to net a second goal but screwed his shot

wide from 10 yards out. But after 71 minutes the youngster did

strike again. Ashley Young’s corner was flicked on by Dunne and

Clark forced the ball over the line. Chamakh was yellow carded for

a challenge on Dunne. Friedel denied Chamakh on the edge of the box

after being freed by Arshavin. But the Gunners looked nervy when

Villa ventured forward in a tense finish. Wilshere made it 4-2 from

Chamakh’s cross in injury-time.