Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud provided the goals in the span of a minute, and after Christian Benteke pulled one back in the second half, Arsenal's defense did just enough to keep Villa out and secure a nervy win.
In a game that produced mixed emotions, it is important to look back on the lessons learned. Here are six of them.
Holding on to tight leads has been a hallmark of Arsenal’s outstanding form in the past year, and the Gunners proved once again that they can guard what they have.
The fact that they put themselves in a position to do so is another topic and will be addressed later. It is crucial to note, though, that if this Arsenal side is given the slimmest advantages, it can be trusted to hold onto it for an extended period of time.
Their ability to weather Aston Villa’s unrelenting pressure gives everyone in the team the confidence necessary to repeat this performance in the future.
Indeed, that is what Arsenal have been doing for almost a year now, and it has taken them to the top of the table.
Olivier Giroud has, somewhat deservedly, been the subject of much criticism and derision from Arsenal fans this season because of his inability to score goals on a consistent basis.
It is true that a striker’s main job is to introduce the ball to the net. But there is so much more to the Frenchman’s game than simple scoring.
As Arsene Wenger pointed out recently, Giroud works extremely hard to support the rest of the midfield and attack and win the ball back when Arsenal lose it. After nine days’ rest, Giroud had the energy to sprint around the pitch to pressure Villa.
His goal also indicates how technically skilled he is, which is even more remarkable in a large target man. He made bringing down a lofted pass in between two players seem remarkably easy, and finished coolly.
That is the sort of player that needs supporting, not replacing.
While complaining about a victory seems a bit whiney and petty, Arsenal need to recognize that they need to do a better job of thrashing opponents when they get the chance.
Instead of ratcheting up the intensity and pace of their play after Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud’s two quick goals, the Gunners became somewhat complacent and Villa returned for the second half eager to take advantage.
After Christian Benteke’s goal lifted the rest of his team and the crowd at Villa Park, Arsenal could easily have dropped points in the fierce onslaught that ensued.
While Arsneal’s ability to retain leads and win tight games is admirable, they should not be forcing themselves to do so in the first place.
Arsenal have tremendous depth in midfield. Arsene Wenger has at least two players from which to choose in every single role.
That is why the team is not reeling from the loss of arguably its best player this season. As soon as Aaron Ramsey succumbed to an injury, Jack Wilshere assumed the Welshman’s role with the same vigor and skill that made Arsenal’s midfield one of the best in Europe.
Wilshere did more than was required of him against Villa—when he was not dropping back to help absorb the Villains’ pressure, he linked the defense with the attack and pushed forward to great effect.
Like Ramsey, he always seemed to find himself in the right place at the right time. He placed himself in the perfect position to score Arsenal’s first goal and found Giroud beautifully for their second.
Santi Cazorla is not having remotely the same impact on the left wing as he did last year, and Arsene Wenger needs to use his other options to compensate.
The Spaniard is just not as clinical or creative as fans are used to. He disappears for long stretches of games while the likes of Mesut Ozil or Jack Wilshere take over, and is prone to mistakes one would not expect from a player of his quality.
Cazorla’s careless giveaway sprung the move that resulted in Christian Benteke’s goal, and almost became the watershed moment of the game.
The upshot, however, is that Wenger can replace Cazorla in multiple ways. Most obviously, he could give Lukas Podolski the chance he deserves after solid performances since returning from injury. Tomas Rosicky and Mesut Ozil are also options.
You might be surprised to learn that, although Arsenal won and had 64 percent of possession, according to ESPNFC, Aston Villa had more shots and more shots on goal.
Victory is determined by what a team does with the chances it gets, not by how much of the ball it has.
Though Arsenal won despite having fewer chances, the above statistics reinforce the Gunners' need to be more clinical and put opponents away when they have the chance. They were very fortunate to hold onto their lead in this game and their possession numbers say that they did not have to ride their luck.
That should wake up an Arsenal side that cannot afford to be jarred into action by a loss.