Birmingham: Arsenal sent out a title warning as they moved top of the English Premier League after clinically dispatching a sinking Aston Villa.
Aaron Ramsey (right) celebrates scoring Arsenal’s second goal against Aston Villa with teammate Mesut Ozil at Villa Park. Pic/Getty Images
Olivier Giroud's penalty and Aaron Ramsey's tap in moved them to the summit, a point ahead of Manchester City and Leicester, following a 2-0 win. The Foxes could regain top spot if they beat Chelsea on Monday but with Manchester United losing at Bournemouth and City struggling to find a rhythm the Gunners have the title advantage.
Villa's impossible task
In contrast, defeat left hosts Villa marooned eight points from safety at the bottom of the table with manager Remi Garde, who won the title with Arsenal in 1998, facing an impossible job. They will be bottom at Christmas and face a must-win game at fellow strugglers Newcastle on Saturday having not won in a club record 15 league games. Villa, one of just seven ever-present teams in the Premier League, look all but down even with half the season remaining.
They had not beaten Arsenal at home for exactly 17 years, when they came from 0-2 down to win 3-2 on December 13, 1998. That 16-match run, which included Arsenal's 3-0 win last year, rarely looked in doubt once the Gunners grabbed an eighth minute lead. The returning Theo Walcott, in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, outpaced Alan Hutton on the right and tangled with the Scotland international in the area.
It took an age for referee Kevin Friend to point to the spot but when he did Giroud sent Brad Guzan the wrong way for his 50th league goal for Arsenal. Villa's enthusiastic approach counted for nothing and Rudy Gestede nodded off his own line after Giroud's header caught Guzan in no man's land.
It was a training game for the Gunners as they passed in front of Villa and waited for their time to strike again, which came in the 38th minute. Ramsey's strong challenge on Idrissa Gana set the visitors up on the counter attack and Walcott fed Mesut Ozil to dummy and race clean through. He then squared to Ramsey, who had made up the ground, to tap past the helpless Guzan.