Arsenal back on top as Villa capitulate again

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LONDON (Reuters) – Arsenal eased to a comfortable 2-0 victory at Aston Villa on Sunday to soar to the summit of the Premier League and leave their hapless opponents rooted at rock bottom. A 50th Premier League goal from Olivier Giroud, a penalty converted four days after his Champions League hat-trick against Olympiakos Piraeus, swiftly brought more gloom to Villa Park after eight minutes. Mesut Ozil then produced his 13th assist of the season to allow Aaron Ramsey to slot home a goal in the 38th minute and enable Arsenal to move on to 33 points, one point clear of Manchester City and Leicester City. Leicester have the chance to regain the leadership when they entertain Chelsea on Monday. Villa improved in the second half as Arsenal took their foot off the gas but manager Remi Garde, who as a player was once signed by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, could only hear the grumbles of discontent as his side went a club-record 15th league game without a win. “Overall for us, it was a great week,” Wenger said on Sky Sports, referring to his side’s midweek heroics when they managed, against the odds, to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League once again. The defeat left Villa stranded at the foot of the table on six points from 16 games, six adrift of 19th-placed Sunderland. It was not just Giroud who was able to celebrate a landmark achievement. Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech equalled David James’s all-time Premier League record with his 169th clean sheet, in 349 games, prompting Wenger to hail him as “an absolute all-time great”. Giroud’s splendid week quickly gained a new sheen when Arsenal were awarded a penalty, which referee Kevin Friend took a while to consider before adjudging that Theo Walcott had been bundled over unfairly in the area by Alan Hutton. From the spot, Giroud converted his 14th goal of the season and 50th Premier League goal in all for Arsenal in 113 appearances, a landmark reached quicker for the Gunners only by Ian Wright and Thierry Henry. Arsenal, in effortless command, struck again thanks to the industry of Ramsey, who won the ball not far outside his own box from Idrissa Gueye to set up a dazzling counter, then sprinted up the field to get on the end of Ozil’s unselfish square pass and double the lead. Ozil was also singled out for praise from Wenger. “I must say that Mesut is an absolute complete collective player. Sometimes, he’s frustrated that he doesn’t get the same balls back but he’s a very important link in our game,” he said. “We believe we have an opportunity to win the title,” man of the match Ramsey told Sky Sports. “We have shown what we are capable of and have to continue now, in what is a busy part of the season. We have to maintain our focus and belief.” After being booed off at halftime, Garde’s men huffed and puffed a little more convincingly after the break, Scott Sinclair heading over and Leandro Bacuna curling one close as Arsenal dozed, content to let the dismal home side continue to meander in possession. Adama Traore came closest to scoring for Villa in the dying seconds but their plight is worsening after a ninth straight league game at Villa Park without a win, their worst home league sequence.