Cesc Fabregas came off the bench to inspire a convincing 3-0 win over Aston Villa and further brighten Arsenal’s title hopes.
For over an hour, -while Arsenal dominated – Martin O’Neill’s disciplined troops looked to hold firm and even deliver a wicked blow but the Gunners were having none of those sucker-punches from last season’s corresponding fixture.
After a cagey attacking display, Fabregas fired matters with a rare free-kick goal but limped off with a hamstring injury later on after another well-taken strike.
Diaby then netted a sublime goal of his own in stoppage-time to complete a 3-0 riot in what could have been a tight, tight, affair at the top of the Premier League table.
Wenger’s men can take much pride from this victory. Not only was it over a side who had defeated the rest of the ‘big four’ but prior to today, Aston Villa were undefeated (2 draws and 1 win) in their only three visits to the Emirates.
Either side could have jumped to second with the win and there was the added carrot of leaders Chelsea dropping more points yesterday. Arsenal started the brighter and Brad Friedel saved well from defender Thomas Vermaelen at the far post following a corner.
Eduardo then missed the chance of the half after barely four minutes. The Croatian hitman picked up a pass from Diaby and superbly turned Carlos Cuellar but could only manage a tame shot straight at Friedel.
Denilson fired over as the Gunners continued to press, whilst the physical presence of Emile Heskey looked threatening for the visitors. Following a swift counter-attack, Ashley Young saw his shot deflect off Alex Song and loop agonizingly over the bar with Manuel Alumunia left floundering.
The second-half introduction of Fabregas really sparked the home side into life. The Spaniard’s corner forced a scramble that led to Stiliyan Petrov’s hurried clearance off the line and situation repeated minutes later when Richard Dunne attempted a crazy dummy which Eduardo latched on to and pulled the ball back for Fabregas.
Arshavin had a low strike saved by the left hand of Friedal and Dunne reacted quickest to turn away the rebound as the pressure cranked up several gears. Theo Walcott was introduced in place of Eduardo and when the Gunners won a free kick on the left corner of the box, Fabregas curled in a perfect free-kick that emphatically beat the keeper’s dive.
The midfielder then doubled the lead with a perfectly executed counter-attack. Armand Traore drilled a superb crossfield pass into the path of Walcott who played in the rampaging Arsenal skipper for a coolly taken finish.
Fabregas immediately pulled up limping and was replaced minutes later with the game won.
The scoreline was given a final gloss in injuy time when Diaby was allowed to run through unchecked and, with defenders backing off, he curled his effort into the bottom corner.