London: Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla sparkled as Arsenal crushed goal-shy Aston Villa 5-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday to close on the Premier League's top four.
Mesut Ozil celebrates after scoring Arsenal's second goal against Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
Ozil freed Giroud to open the scoring in the eighth minute and the France striker returned the favour in the 56th minute before goals from Theo Walcott, Cazorla and Hector Bellerin completed a one-sided victory.
It was a fifth consecutive win in all competitions for Arsene Wenger's men, who won 2-0 at champions Manchester City in their previous league outing, and took them level on points with fourth-place Southampton, who were to host Swansea City later in the day.
"You cannot fault anyone's performance," Wenger told Sky Sports. "Mesut did well. It takes a while to get that sharpness back. We had a rigorous attitude defensively. Even at 4-0, 5-0 up, people were willing to work back. We want to play collectively and offensively to the end."
The defeat saw Paul Lambert's Villa — three points above the relegation zone in 16th place — set an unwanted club record of six consecutive league games without scoring.
The Midlands club, who host leaders Chelsea next weekend, have gone 10 hours and 12 minutes since Christian Benteke found the net against Manchester United on December 20. "It is difficult. When you don't score, you don't win games," Lambert said.
"You have to keep working hard in training and hopefully it turns around. We had chances to score, but you have to take them."
Ozil was making his first league start since October 5 and he immediately made an impact by cleverly using the outside of his left foot to flick a pass through to Giroud.
The Frenchman had only Brad Guzan to beat and after briefly getting ahead of the ball, he calmly chipped the Villa goalkeeper to register his fifth goal in his last six league appearances.
Post to the rescue
Cazorla hit the post and Guzan parried from Aaron Ramsey before David Ospina had to repel a header by Andreas Weimann at the other end. Ozil doubled Arsenal's lead 11 minutes into the second half, gliding onto an elegant, piercing pass from Giroud and trundling a shot into the bottom-right corner.
Walcott had had to wait even longer for a league start, having last started in the league on New Year's Day 2014 due to a serious knee injury, and he marked the occasion by gathering Cazorla's pass and curling home in the 63rd minute.
Bellerin helps himself
Villa's porous defence meant that Alexis Sanchez's absence with a hamstring problem was barely felt by Arsenal and after Giroud had hit the bar with a header, Cazorla added a fourth goal from the penalty spot.
Guzan was penalised for tripping substitute Chuba Akpom and despite getting a firm hand to Cazorla's powerful spot-kick, which was hit straight at him, the American could not keep it out.
Young full-back Bellerin got in on the act in injury time, meeting Cazorla's lay-off with a precise, side-foot shot from 20 yards.