Olivier Giroud’s 50th Premier League goal helped send Arsenal to the top of the table in a 2-0 victory over struggling Aston Villa at Villa Park.
The Frenchman’s rich vein of form continued as he opened the scoring from the penalty spot against Remi Garde’s side, whose winless run in the top flight now stands at 15 matches.
Giroud had netted his first Arsenal hat-trick – which also included a penalty – in Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League success at Olympiacos, and the striker now has five goals in his last three games across all competitions.
Mesut Ozil laid on his 13th Premier League assist this term to set up Aaron Ramsey for Arsenal’s second shortly before half-time, and there was no looking back for Arsene Wenger’s side.
Garde’s team – unchanged from last week – did improve after the interval but they could not beat Petr Cech, who equalled David James’ all-time Premier League record with his 169th clean sheet.
Victory subsequently sends Arsenal into pole position, but Leicester City could overtake them if they beat struggling Chelsea on Monday.
Wenger made one change to his side from the 3-1 win over Sunderland last weekend, replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Theo Walcott.
The former Southampton man had a rapid impact, his pace causing problems for Alan Hutton who pulled him back inside the box to concede a penalty.
Giroud confidently stepped up and calmly slotted the spot-kick into the bottom-right corner with just eight minutes played.
Villa saw plenty of the ball but struggled to create anything, and in the 20th minute Rudy Gestede had to hook Giroud’s header off the line when Brad Guzan failed to collect Ozil’s free-kick.
Cech’s inability to hold a Carlos Sanchez cross shortly afterwards afforded Leandro Bacuna a chance to restore parity, but the left-back could not keep his effort down.
Arsenal began to assert themselves in possession, but escaped when Idrissa Gueye was unable to make the most of a cheap giveaway as his 25-yard strike swerved wide.
Wenger’s team added a second in the 38th minute when Ramsey dispossessed Gueye 25 yards from his goal, initiating a counter-attack which resulted in him sweeping home from Ozil’s unselfish square pass.
Villa were positive after the restart with Jordan Veretout and Gestede missing the target before Sanchez warmed Cech’s gloves with a curled shot in the 50th minute.
Scott Sinclair was unable to work Cech with a free header shortly afterwards, while Bacuna’s impressive 20-yard strike grazed the roof of the net with 62 minutes on the clock.
Jack Grealish, recalled to the first team after two weeks out as punishment for a night out following the 4-0 defeat to Everton in November, was introduced in the 78th minute, but it was too late for bottom club Villa, whose ninth Premier League home match without a victory is a club record Garde would not have wanted.
Key Opta stats:
– Arsenal are now unbeaten in 17 Premier League visits to Villa Park (W10 D7).
– Olivier Giroud scored his 50th Premier League goal for the Gunners in his 113th game. Only Thierry Henry (83) and Ian Wright (87) have reached the milestone quicker for Arsenal.
– Giroud has scored nine goals in his last nine away games in all competitions for the Gunners.
– Indeed, the French striker has also scored in each of his last five meetings with Aston Villa in all competitions.
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