Santi Cazorla's late goal rescues Arsenal
Arsenal maestro Santi Cazorla rescued Arsene Wenger from another disappointing result with a late winner to beat a valiant Aston Villa 2-1 on Saturday.
Cazorla opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but Villa came back strongly and equalized through Andreas Weimann after the break.
Arsenal threw everything at Villa keeper Brad Guzan, but the Gunners could not find a way past until Cazorla found the net with five minutes remaining -- saving his manager from another ear-bashing from the supporters who have started to doubt whether the Frenchman is the right man to lead the club forward.
Many had questioned whether Wenger had lost the plot this week with a bizarre news conference rant sandwiched in between two disappointing defeats to Blackburn and Bayern Munich.
Some of those doubters will not have been convinced by this performance. Wenger's men were often sloppy in possession, looked edgy at the back, and their propensity to want to walk the ball in to the net caused a huge amount of frustration among the home crowd at a sparsely populated Emirates Stadium.
After the match, Wenger took aim at his critics once more. When asked whether these had been "dreadful times", Wenger replied: "Of course. But you do your job and focus on the next game. That's what I did.
"I'm not 30 years in this job at the top level to be destroyed by people saying I don't know what I'm doing. (If I was) I would have stopped this job a long time ago. But we have responsibilities and have to stand up and get the team ready to fight."
Whatever criticisms are aimed at Wenger -- whether it be his match tactics or his transfer policy -- there is no doubt he possesses players who can turn the game with a bit of magic. Cazorla is certainly of them.
The Spaniard, who now has 11 goals for the club, drifted in and out of the game, but he took his two strikes brilliantly.
"Santi Cazorla played very well and delivered in a game that was very important. He's a great player," Wenger said. "He has shown he's a great football player and I'm happy and grateful he delivered those two important goals today.
"I didn't expect him to score so many goals for us. He has 11 games to go so he could get a few more. For me, he's a complete football player because he also has spirit. He was a bit tired in the last few minutes, but he continued to fight. He's a good example to follow. He's happy to come and play and practice every day, and he gives you absolutely everything on a football pitch."
The win puts pressure on Tottenham, which now has a one-point advantage over their rival for fourth place ahead of a game at West Ham on Monday.
Villa remains one point above the relegation zone, and on this evidence, certainly has the players to stay up.
Watched by owner American owner Stan Kroenke, making a rare visit to north London, Arsenal started well.
Jack Wilshere capitalized on a poor backpass and raced at goal, but the midfielder fired straight at the American Guzan.
Cazorla then lifted the quiet atmosphere inside the Emirates with Arsenal's opener in the sixth minute.
Nathan Baker blocked Cazorla's initial shot after some good work by Wilshere, but the Spaniard made no mistake with his second effort, slotting past Guzan with a beautiful curling effort.
Urged on by an animated Paul Lambert from the touchline, Villa looked to hit straight back. Charles N'Zogbia raced down the right past Thomas Vermaelen and pulled the ball back for Gabriel Agbonlahor, but Wojciech Szczesny saved.
N'Zogbia cantered down the flank moments later, but Agbonlahor was unable to keep up with him and he arrived just too late to tap in the Frenchman's cross.
Weimann was the next man to charge at the Gunners defense. He laid the ball off to N'Zogbia, but Szczesny parried well before Thomas Vermaelen hooked the ball clear.
Villa's attacks led to a nervous atmosphere inside the Emirates, but Theo Walcott brought them to the edge of their seats with a teasing curler that flew inches over Guzan's goal.
Villa continued to pour forward, however. Matt Lowton nutmegged Abou Diaby and entered the Arsenal box, but Vermaelen came to the rescue with a last-gasp tackle. Lowton caught the Belgian in his follow-through and was booked for the foul. Diaby then entered the book for a clumsy challenge on N'Zogbia.
Arsenal's passing was often sloppy and the home fans became annoyed at the Gunners' attempts to pass the ball in to the net.
The hosts did produce an impressive move just before the break, though, with Cazorla finding Olivier Giroud, but Guzan was equal to the Frenchman's effort.
Arsenal started to dominate the game again after the break but again was reluctant to shoot on goal, much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
With Arsenal throwing so many players forward, the Gunners were left vulnerable at the back.
Weimann went on another rampaging counter down the right and crossed for Agbonlahor, but the forward headed wide.
Wenger was forced into a change just after the hour when Diaby hobbled off with another injury. Aaron Ramsey came on in his place.
Villa then stunned the home side by equalizing. Carl Jenkinson failed to clear a long punt down field, the ball made its way to Weimann and he went on a blistering 40-yard run before beating Szczesny with a weak shot.
Wenger rose from his bench and cast a disappointed glare at his team. His troubles nearly worsened soon after when Christian Benteke found space at the back post, but Per Mertesacker got in front of the Belgian before he could head on goal.
Wenger gambled, throwing Lukas Podolski on for Jenkinson, and Arsenal pressured the visitors' box.
Guzan saved brilliantly to deny Giroud from point-blank range as Arsenal continued to pile forward.
Arsenal got its reward five minutes from time when Nacho Monreal swung the ball into the box and Cazorla converted, much to the relief of Wenger and the home fans.
Lambert was disappointed to see his team come away with nothing despite a pleasing display.
"We shouldn't have lost it," he said. "We were exceptional in parts of that game and we should have been in the lead at halftime. At the very least we should have come away with a point."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.