Arsenal’s bid to finish the season in the top four gathered momentum on Sunday afternoon with a crushing win over Aston Villa.
Whisper it, but ahead of next weekend’s derby, it’s starting to feel as if the team may have loftier ambitions than just finishing 4th.
Yesterday, without the talismanic Alexis but with Özil and Walcott restored, Arsenal were superb.
It was funny to listen to the Sky pundits say that the game hadn’t felt like a 5-0 game.
Had it not been for the post, an erroneous linesman’s flag and (first half) Theo Walcott, the scoreline could have been much worse for the Villa.
It is with Walcott I want to start.
If his first half display was case closed for my argument that a limited speed merchant shouldn’t be allowed to hold the club to ransom, the second half was very different indeed.
In the second half we saw a transformation akin to that which took place in the first NLD to finish 5-2 in 2012.
It was his break that led to the second goal, the Villa killer, whilst his goal reminded me a little of Ian Wright against Southampton in 1992. Only, of course, Wrighty didn’t bother passing to anyone.
Clearly, speed kills.
Theo wasn’t the only one making his presence felt yesterday.
If it has taken him a while to get going, the same isn’t true of Mesut Özil.
This Rolls Royce footballer has purred into action as if he had just been left idle for one minute- not three months. Two starts, two goals and with an eighth minute wave of his left boot, he decided this game.
Seriously, what footballer on this planet would have seen that a volleyed backheel was on, never mind attempting and executing it?
I can’t even describe what he did properly.
But he did see, and do, it and so he gave Olivier Giroud the freedom of north London to do whatever he wanted. Giroud strode forward, he paused, he lit a Gitane, got the ball caught under his feet a little and then lifted the ball into the corner of the goal as though that had been his intention all along.
Giroud would return the favour for Özil in the second half.
Taking Walcott’s pass, Giroud made a mockery of Villa’s high line and slid the ball into an ocean of space. Özil ambled onto it, took his own sweet time and guided the ball past Guzan and into the corner of his net.
The goal, to me, arrived just in time, as Villa had been dominating possession early in the half. Okay, they probably weren’t gonna do anything with it, but that’s not really the point.
As it was, the quick, Walcott inspired 1-2 punch, and ended any thoughts the visitors might have entertained of a comeback.
It was now just a question of how many we would score.
Chuba Akpom and Tomas Rosicky replaced Giroud and Walcott and both looked lively.
Chuba Akpom was so lively, in fact, that with better finishing he could have had a hat-trick; you can see why there’s a bit of a buzz and also some scepticism around him.
Unfortunately, his timing was off with a header from a Mertesacker cross- yes, a Mertesacker cross – and then a tame finish from Cazorla’s pass.
He did brilliantly to win a penalty though.
Reacting to a slightly heavy touch, he showed great speed to get into the box and nick the ball away from the onrushing Brad Guzan. The keeper could have no complaints about the penalty decision- so obvious, even Anthony Taylor had to give it.
Although he’ll probably feel that he might have done better with the penalty itself, having watched Guzan prance about on his line for a few seconds, Cazorla promptly stepped up and lashed the ball straight at him like a modern day Indiana Jones.
Luckily, he hit it so hard, the keeper could only deflect the ball into the net.
I rather suspect the little Spaniard might go back to one of the corners with his next attempt.
Incidentally, it seems that injuries have permanently disturbed last season’s penalty kick pecking order.
With all three of Arteta, Giroud and Özil missing at the same time, Cazorla has had the opportunity to make the job his own. He’s been very successful, I think you’ll agree?
Cazorla and Ozil
How great was is it to see Cazorla and Özil on the pitch together?
The way they picked apart the, admittedly hapless, Villa defence for what should have been Özil’s first goal felt like a hint of great things to come.
Whilst the identity of our first four goalscorers may not have been a huge surprise to anyone, the result was given the gloss a lethal second half performance deserved by Hector Bellerín.
The teenage right-back, who has been one of the discoveries of the season, drove yet another Cazorla pass into the bottom corner of the Villa net from just outside the box for his first professional goal, something he seemed very happy about.
With this action, he capped another hugely impressive performance and as with Serge Gnabry last season, Bellerín seems to be making great strides by the week.
After just nine starts, he looks like he’s been in the first team his whole life.
If someone had told you at the start of this season that players like Bellerín and Coquelin (so impressive again) would have become an important part of a very good Arsenal side, would you have believed it?
My faith in Coquelin aside, I’m not sure one very impressive display from “Ector” in the Emirates Cup would have been enough to convince me. For sure, give them a chance and see how they get on.
That both have taken their chances so well must be tremendously pleasing to a manager who prides himself on his ability to develop. That the two have become integral cogs in a team that’s actually winning games, and winning them well, must double the satisfaction.
Of course, Saturday’s short trip up the road may prove a more accurate barometer of where the team are than a home win against Aston Villa.
However, having dismantled the champions in our last Premier League outing away from home, should Spurs really hold that much fear for us?
More on them anon.