It was a nervous 94 minutes for Arsenal fans and manager Arsene Wenger at Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but thanks to midfield maestro Santi Cazorla the Gunners took all three points from a game Aston Villa side with a 2-1 win. Cazorla opened and closed the scoring in the game with the winner, his 11th of the season, coming with just five minutes to play.
Cazorla managed to give Arsenal the lead after just six minutes when his first shot was stopped by defender Nathan Baker, but he was fortunate enough to get another opportunity and this time he buried it past Villa keeper Brad Guzan with a nice curling shot. Villa didn’t sit back and they created a few chances of their own, which made Arsenal supporters a little nervous, but they came to naught in the first half and the Gunners went to the dressing room with a well-deserved 1-0 lead after 45 minutes.
Both teams played good football at times and sloppy football at others and it looked like Arsenal was more interested in walking the ball into Guzan’s goal instead of shooting it in. Whenever they did manage a shot on target, Guzan was equal to the task.
The second half started in the same pattern as Arsenal attempted to double the lead, but they were often leaving open spaces at the back for Villa to take advantage of. Gunner midfielder Abou Diaby was substituted just after 60 minutes after suffering an injury with Aaron Ramsey coming on t take his place and inject a little bit of much-needed life into the side.
Defender Carl Jenkinson had problems with the ball and it made its way over to Andreas Weimann who carried it half the length of the pitch before slotting the ball past Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny after 68 minutes. It looked like Arsenal might blow another two precious points in the standings, but Wenger then put Lukas Podolski on in place of Jenkinson and Arsenal started to press for the winner. It came in the 85th minute after Nacho Monreal came down the left side of the pitch and pulled the ball back to Cazorla’s feet and the Spaniard calmly deposited it into the back of the net behind Guzan.
It means the Gunners are now sitting just one point behind Tottenham, who travel to West Ham on Monday for a London derby. Arsenal has huge games coming up with Spurs and Everton and will need to play better than they did against Villa if they hope to grab three points in both of those matches. The performance wasn’t the greatest today, but the result was.
Arsenal Player Ratings Feb. 23 vs Aston Villa
Wojciech Szczesny 5.5
Hasn’t been at his best lately and needs to improve when Arsenal faces Spurs and Everton. Not sure if he could have done much about the shot that beat him though.
Carl Jenkinson 6
Jenkinson played well enough and more or less kept Gabriel Agbonlahor at bay. He wasn’t too creative when he had the ball, but did his job and that’s what mattered today. Came off after 76 minutes for Lukas Podolski.
Per Mertesacker 6.5
One of his better games recently. He was steady throughout, but not spectacular. Kept things need and tidy in his own end.
Thomas Vermaelen 6
Vermaelen was saddled with keeping Christian Benteke at bay and overall he managed to do it.
Nacho Monreal 6.5
Monreal’s best play of the game, actually of his Arsenal career, was to set up Cazorla for the game winner. Still can’t wait for Gibbs to get back.
Mikel Arteta 6.5
Arteta had a solid game and took care of business as well as expected. Helped to create the winner.
Abou Diaby 5.5
Diaby wasn’t at his best and he wasn’t at his worst either. He’s the most effective when he carries the ball and takes men on. Came off after 61 minutes for Ramsey as he was injured.
Jack Wilshere 7
Wilshere always tries his best, but it doesn’t always mean everything he does turns out right. Some of his passes were off the mark, but helped set up the winning goal by feeding Monreal.
Theo Walcott 6
Walcott wasn’t very noticeable in the match and that’s not a good sign. He was well below his best. Came off in the 91st minute for Laurent Koscielny
Olivier Giroud 6
Giroud didn’t really get much help and he was marked pretty closely. However, he really didn’t help himself out either. Managed to hit the crossbar in the second half with a header.
Santi Cazorla 8.5
A couple of superb goals by Cazorla with the second one coming at the most crucial time to seal the victory. Other than the goals, he also played a fine game.
Aaron Ramsey 6.5
Came on after minutes 61 minutes for the injured Diaby. Ramsey played well and gave the team a spark both offensively and defensively.
Lukas Podolski 6
Came on for after 76 minutes for Jenkinson. Podolski looked a little rusty, but certainly wasn’t a negative presence.
Laurent Koscielny NA
Came on for Walcott after 91 minutes. I don’t agree with making subs in injury time when you have the lead as it extends the game and gives the opposition more time to even things up.