Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2

If there ever was a game of the proverbial two halves, then this was it. Having taken the game to Villa, the Gunners were somehow undone by Richard Dunne and Darren Bent goals in an inexplicable opening first 45 minutes. Whatever was then said at the break had the desired effect as the Gunners tore into Villa in the second period. Robin Van Persie struck twice from the penalty spot, with Theo Walcott getting on the team sheet in somewhat fortuitous circumstances.The smiles, were back, the players had found the belief once again, and even Thierry Henry’s late introduction was to be only a sub plot this time. It was Villa’s turn to be shell shocked, but for them there was to be no return.

Ox torment

Having experienced an adverse reaction from the removal of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Manchester United game, Arsene Wenger gave the forward his second consecutive Premiership start, and his tormenting of the Villa defence was always at the heart of the Arsenal forays forward. A roar of excitement always went up when Oxlade-Chamberlain got hold of the ball, he always had the measure of Alan Hutton, yet still there was no opening goal. Thomas Vermaelen stung the hands of Shay Given from a free-kick, with Walcott hitting wide on 14 minutes, with Thomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey mounting strikes that were also unable to get any joy for the home side

Stung

Having spent most of the half in containment however it was Villa who took the lead. Their first corner and first sighter on goal provided dividends. Stiliyan Petrov worked a short corner for Robbie Keane to cross and Dunne to head powerfully past Lukasz Fabianski, just past the half hour mark. In first half time added on, the Emirates faithful were stung once again after a quick Villa counter attack. Sent clear, Bent raced on to power a shot that Fabianski palmed, but the Villa man was alert to hit home from a tight angle.

Raced

Half time boos were ringing in the ears of the Arsenal players, who knew that despite the scoreline they could still respond, and that is exactly what they did. Three minutes after the break, Per Mertersacker must have thought he had his first Arsenal goal, but his header was cleared off the line by Hutton. Walcott upped his game, and powered through after a neat back flick from Van Persie, which the Villa defence managed to clear. The momentum was building now as Ramsey prodded at Given, and it was to be the Wales captain who created the leveller at the start of a 15 minute Arsenal burst that would knock out Villa. Clear of Dunne, and as he raced into the penalty area, Ramsey was clattered to the ground to win the first penalty of the afternoon.

Deflected

Up stepped Van Persie to strike comfortably from the penalty spot to Given’s right to half the arrears on 53 minutes. Four minutes later, and Walcott zipped to the Villa byeline, and despite seeing his initial shot deflected, saw Hutton’s attempt to clear go in off the Arsenal man’s body past Given to draw the Gunners level. The 5,000 travelling Villa fans – who had their coach journeys paid for by owner Randy Lerner were stunned, but just past the hour mark their pain was to be complete.

Flattened

Someone needs to remind Laurent Koscielny that he is primarily a defender, but the manner in which he darted into the Villa half after playing a one-two with Alex Song suggests that he possesses the skills of his countryman Zindine Zidane. Koscileny surged forward, only to be flattened by the attentions of Bent and Carlos Cuellar. Referee Michael Jones had no hesitation in pointing the spot again, and again it was Van Persie who struck the winner, this time hitting to Given’s left. That gave Van Persie 120 Arsenal goals, a strike that draws him level with his fellow countryman, the legend that is Dennis Bergkamp.

Return

Villa were not out of things, and were to mount a spirited reply with Petrov going close. Henry was introduced for the final few minutes, and his every touch was cheered, as was the return of Bacary Sagna. By then however the result was not in any doubt, it was Arsenal who now travel to face the winners from the Middlesboro v Sunderland replay in the FA Cup 5th round.