American Brad Guzan and Aston Villa Thwarted By Arsenal
In the final Premier League contest of match week 21, Aston Villa hosted then-third place Arsenal in a match with the potential to either see the hosts move into the top half of the table or the visitors retake pole position in the league. The Gunners proved too much for the Villans and escaped with a narrow 2-1 win.
The North London club started out in dominating fashion having 75 percent of the possession in the first 15 minutes. Aston Villa started the match with three center-backs as a preventative measure to counter Arsenal’s attacking power. In the 21st minute, Serge Gnabry took a long shot on goal that struck Villa defender Nathan Baker in the head, immediately knocking him unconscious. The Villans were forced to replace Baker with Leandro Bacuna and shifted back to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation.
Just over ten minutes later, Arsenal broke the deadlock. Nacho Monreal sprinted down the left flank before cutting in a pass to Jack Wilshere at the top of the box who controlled it with a touch before slotting it into the bottom right corner just beyond the reach of the outstretched Brad Guzan. Almost immediately after Wilshere’s goal, the Gunners would double their lead thanks to a goal from Olivier Giroud. Wilshere robbed Karim El Ahmadi of possession in the middle of the field and chipped a ball to Giroud who then brought it down, took a touch past the defender and cut one across the American goalkeeper again into the bottom right corner. The remainder of the first half was rather uneventful with neither team capitalizing on good opportunities, even with eight minutes of stoppage time from the earlier Baker injury.
The second half started out fairly slow, but an Arsenal attack just over ten minutes in was thwarted by Ron Vlaar who made a hard tackle on Monreal, resulting in the Spaniard injuring his knee. Monreal tried to play with his hurt knee but was replaced in the 66th minute by Kieran Gibbs who made his return from a minor injury. Minutes later, Gnabry was replaced by Tomas Rosicky.
The Villans pulled themselves back into the match in the 76th minute after a diving header from Christian Benteke beat Wojciech Sczesczny to the left corner of the goal. The Gunners were forced to go into defensive mode in order to secure three crucial points away from home. In the 82nd minute, Rosicky took a forearm to the face and split open his nose. The Czech midfielder tried to finish out the match, but the wound wouldn’t stop bleeding, forcing Arsène Wenger to replace him with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his debut after injuring his knee against Aston Villa in the first match of the season, proved to be the spark the Gunners needed to hold off the hosts and leave Villa Park with a 2-1 win in a match that ended up being 105 minutes long after injury stoppages in both halves. The win brought Arsenal back atop the Premier League table with 48 points and left Aston Villa in eleventh place with 23 points.