Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2
(Benteke 76, Wilshere 34, Giroud 35)

Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League courtesy of Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud’s first half strikes at Villa Park. The Gunners we’re so dominant in the opening exchanges as witnessed with the mere 17 second gap between the two opening goals. Looking comfortable and with further chances to extend their lead, Arsenal were forced to dig deep after Christian Benteke netted after 76 minutes, which awoke the Villa crowd. Despite the barrage of late high balls in the Arsenal area, Arsene Wenger’s side maintained their defensive discipline and returned south with all three points, thus avenging their season opening loss to the Midlands’ side.

Having seen Manchester City controversially see off Newcastle United and Chelsea win at Hull, the Gunners knew what they had to do to maintain their grip of top spot. For added measure, Liverpool’s thrashing of Stoke maintained the pressure at the top where any slip would have been let in Arsenal’s title rivals.

With Theo Walcott out for up or six months with his cruciate ligament damage, Arsenal gave Serge Gnabry a start. Mikel Arteta is struggling with a thigh injury, so Wenger entrusted Mathieu Flamini with the defensive midfield duties, with Wilshere, Mesut Özil and Santi Cazolra encouraged to support lone striker Olivier Giroud.

With a five man defence, Villa’s plan was evident, but the home side were forced to make an early change when Gnabry’s shot caught Nathan Baker full in the face. The injury and on field treatment lead to eight minutes on first half time added on.

Giroud had made his intent clear by then, having headed wide from Bacary Sagna’s cross after five minutes and moments later being denied from the same source by Ron Vlaar.

Per Mertersacker was handed the captain’s armband and alongside Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, the Arsenal defence knew they would be tested by Villa’s robust game. The home side saw Fabian Delph almost punish the Gunners’, but Wojciech Szczesny saw the shot go wide.

With Özil always lurking deep, the Gunners took the lead after 34 minutes. The German drew his marker and fed Monreal. The Spain defender raced forward and arrowed a pass in the direction of Giroud. The France striker must have gotten a shout from Wilshere who took a touch before stroking the ball past Guzan.

Straight from the kick off, Arsenal doubled their advantage. Wilshere robbed Delph and looked up to chip the ball into Giroud. Faced with his two markers, the France striker controlled the ball with his left foot, before a couple to deft ricochets enabled his left footed strike to nestle in the same side of Guzan’s net.

A lot of football remained and Wenger knew that his side would need to focus against a side struggling for their Premiership lives. Villa however have already beaten City and that was something that Arsenal would have been aware of.

A 2-0 half time lead wasn’t enough for the Gunners in 1998, but this Arsenal side has more of a steely resolve about it. Koscileny and Mertersacker have never been on a losing side when completing a match together, and the manner in which they had the measure of the threat from Benteke and Agbonlahor suggested that fine sequence would continue. Villa’s attempt to claw their way back in came when Cazorla’s misplaced pass allowed Lowton to swing in a cross which eluded everyone but for the diving Benteke to halve the deficit.

Metersacker’s furious reaction towards Cazorla spoke volumes on what he felt about conceding the goal. Gnabry had already made way for Tomas Rosicky, but his night’s work would last only sixteen minutes after being facially caught by Agbonlahor’s arm. The blood stained Rosicky made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for his first outing since that opening day home defeat at the hands of tonight’s opponents.

The Gunners saw chances fall to Cazorla and again to Giroud, but they couldn’t add to their tally.

Benteke almost got a shock leveller on 90 minutes again from Lowton’s deep cross as Villa went for a very aerial approach. However with the resolve of not wanting to concede again and despite a further six minutes of time added on to navigate, coupled with the prize of a return to the top of the Premiership, it was Arsenal who earned another away win.