Arsenal were able to keep pace in the race for a Champions League birth on Saturday, defeating Aston Villa 2-1 at the Emirates. In what has become somewhat of a season’s theme, Spaniard Santi Cazorla was again the catalyst for the Gunners’ victory.
The midfielder got the scoring started in the 6th minute, clinically slotting a rebounded ball past goalkeeper Brad Guzan. After Aston Villa brought the game back to level terms courtesy of a 20-yard effort from Andreas Weimann in the 68th minute, Cazorla caused an Emirates eruption with a cool finish with only five minutes remaining. The game winner was the result of a fine build up from the Gunners, starting with a ball over the top from Jack Wilshere that found left back Nacho Monreal. The newest Arsenal player then slotted the ball to Cazorla at the penalty spot and the Spaniard finished with incredible composure.
The 28 year old midfielder now has 11 league goals this season, and has become a vital part of Arsene Wenger’s attack since his arrival last summer. The Gunners have only lost once this season when Cazorla scores, and the manager was quick to point out his gratitude for the Spaniards goal scoring touch in his post-match press conference:
“He has shown he’s a great football player and I’m happy and grateful he delivered those two important goals today. I didn’t expect him to score so many goals for us. He has 11 games to go so he could get a few more.”
Wenger went on to express his admiration for Cazorla as a leader and role model for the rest of his team. The manager was quoted as saying:
“For me, he’s a complete football player because he also has spirit…He’s a good example to follow. He’s happy to come and play and practice every day, and he gives you absolutely everything on a football pitch.”
The victory brings Arsenal within a single point of fourth place Tottenham with 11 Premier League games remaining. The two sides play March 3rd at White Hart Lane in what could prove to be a very important match in determining which club will qualify for the Champions League.
While the win sees Arsenal climbing towards the top of the table, it also sees Aston Villa dropping toward the bottom. Since their disastrous 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea in December, Paul Lambert’s club have only won once in the Premier League, and are now in the relegation zone on goal differential.
Lambert’s game plan was obvious from the start on Saturday. Allowing Arsenal plenty of time on the ball (The Gunners had 64% of the possession), Villa was prepared to sit in and try to take advantage of counter attacking opportunities. The plan nearly gave them a share of the spoils, as a second half counter attack opened a shooting lane for Andreas Weimann. The Austrian took the chance brilliantly and the Villains were 25 minutes from a very important result away from home.
Villa were unable to secure the draw however, and Lambert felt very hard-done by the result. Speaking after the game, the former Norwich City manager was quoted as saying:
“We shouldn’t have lost it. We were exceptional in parts of that game and we should have been in the lead at half-time. At the very least we should have come away with a point.”
While the loss puts his club in the bottom three of the table, Lambert has full belief that Villa will be playing the Premier League next season. The Scot stated:
“We’ve just got to try and get more points on the board. We’ve got massive games still to come, and there’ll be a lot of twists and turns this season. I have the belief in ourselves that we’ll always be okay”
With 11 games remaining in the league this season, Aston Villa will need to turn their form around to avoid relegation. With six of those 11 games against teams in the bottom half of the table, Lambert has every reason to believe that his side can avoid the drop.