London: Arsenal survived a late scare to regain top spot in the Premier League with a 2-1 victory at Aston Villa on Monday, both their goals arriving in the space of a minute in the first half.
Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud put Arsenal in cruise control just past the half-hour mark but Christian Benteke’s header 14 minutes from time made it a nervy finish for Arsene Wenger’s side.
England midfielder Wilshere opened the scoring after 34 minutes with an accurate left-foot finish and Villa self-destructed, conceding possession from the kick-off before French striker Giroud doubled the visitors’ lead.
Benteke’s stooping header raised hopes of an unlikely Villa comeback and the Belgian striker came close to an equaliser as Arsenal hung on.
Arsenal began the evening in third place after wins for title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City at the weekend but responded in style to move a point clear at the top.
After the match, Wenger praised Wilshere. “He has found the change of pace in his game and his penetration because he’s not only a passer but he’s a guy who is incisive with the ball,” Wenger said.
“It’s one of his strengths, and for that you need to be at the top of your game physically. You see it when you know the players well in training. In the last games you could see that he’s coming back to his best.”
Wilshere’s goal on Monday was his first in the league since October and Wilshere said he hoped to start adding more to his tally over the coming months.
“Sometimes, I have to play wide, sometimes I play in the middle, but as long as the team is doing well and getting three points that’s all that matters,” he said.
“I’m not really a defensive midfielder, I’d say I was an attacking midfielder, but if you’re going to be one of those, you’re going to have to create goals and score goals. “You see the best midfielders in the past doing that, like (Frank) Lampard and (Steven) Gerrard.”
With all their title rivals winning over the weekend, Arsenal knew any slip-up at Villa could prove costly but apart from a nervy final 15 minutes, they were in control of the game.
“We had to give a strong response because everybody looks at you and see if you drop points because they have made their points over the weekend,” Wenger said.