Premier League – Cesc Fabregas helps Arsenal beat Aston Villa
Fabregas (pictured) missed the 3-0 win over Hull City and was named as a substitute despite not having fully recovered from a hamstring strain.
With the Gunners toiling at 0-0, the Spaniard came on just before the hour mark and had a near immediate impact when he curled a majestic free-kick past Brad Friedel seven minutes later.
The skipper sealed his double win with a cool finish after racing to support fellow substitute Theo Walcott on a counter attack, although he re-damaged his hamstring making the sprint and came off in a match-winning 27-minute cameo.
Abou Diaby, who was Arsenal’s other stand-out player, added a solo goal in injury time to complete the rout of what had previously been the Premier League’s tightest defence, ending Villa’s run of five wins on the bounce.
Arsenal controlled the match from start to finish but, until Fabregas entered the equation, lacked a cutting edge and confidence in front of goal.
They should have taken the lead when, on four minutes, Eduardo fired weakly at Friedel when he should have scored after being put one-on-one by an excellent piece of footwork by Diaby.
While the hosts had much more possession Villa were solid at the back and looked dangerous on the break.
Ashley Young almost opened the scoring when his shot took a heavy deflection off Alexandre Song but landed just the wrong side of the bar with Manuel Almunia stranded, while Stewart Downing volleyed just wide after Thomas Vermaelen made a mess of clearing Gabriel Agbonlahor‘s cross.
Arsenal regained control though, and Samir Nasri almost had a deflected shot of his own beat Friedel but land on the roof of the net, while Bacary Sagna fizzed a rising drive just over after Denilson‘s free-kick hit the wall.
The second half saw more of the same, although Villa offered less going forward and Arsenal looked more threatening in the final third.
By the hour mark the visitors were hanging on for dear life. Friedel made two top saves, one from an Eduardo free-kick that was headed for the bottom left, and one from Sagna at close-range after Eduardo headed a corner into the ground.
The Gunners finally got their break thanks to a moment of magic from Fabregas.
The Spaniard won a free-kick on the edge of the D after drawing a foul from Dunne and stepped up to curl it over the wall and into the bottom left, with Friedel getting across but unable to match its pace.
It was an exquisite effort but was not initially enough, as Villa continued to work hard to get a leveller.
But Fabregas put the result beyond doubt with nine minutes left, sliding the ball into the bottom right after Walcott seared down the wing on the break.
Worrying for Arsenal was the captain’s muted celebration as he suffered a recurrence of his injury, replaced soon after by Aaron Ramsey.
Villa had a go anyway, with a combination of Sagna and Almunia keeping Agbonlahor out with five minutes left.
Diaby added a sheen to the result with a superb driving run from halfway, although Villa backed off him for 30 yards before he dipped a bouncing shot into the bottom right corner.
The win puts Arsenal four points behind Chelsea, with a game in hand.
Reda Maher / Eurosport