Cazorla gives Arsenal 2-1 victory over Aston Villa
(AP Photo/Bogdan Maran)
By ROB HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) Santi Cazorla banished some of the gloom at Arsenal on Saturday, netting a double to clinch a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa and keep his team in touch with the Champions League places.
Arsenal's third successive league win came after a week of setbacks in cup competitions that saw the Gunners exit the FA Cup against second-tier club Blackburn and lose the first leg of its last-16 Champions League match against Bayern Munich 3-1.
"I am proud of the attitude of the team because we went through some difficult days and responded in a united way," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
In the bid to return to Europe's elite knockout competition next season, Arsenal is now a point behind fourth-place Tottenham ahead of its north London rival's match at West Ham on Monday.
Cazorla put Arsenal ahead after just six minutes but the hosts failed to capitalize on their dominance and Andreas Weimann was able to equalize in the 68th minute.
But Cazorla struck again in the 85th, sweeping in his 11th goal since joining Arsenal in August and giving the home fans something to celebrate after a miserable week.
"We could not afford to drop points. ... We are in a catch-up situation in the Premier League and we have come out of two massive disappointments," Wenger said. "But it was interesting as well to see that we were focused, united, a bit nervous and you could see we played a little bit with the handbrake in some situations because the second goal didn't come.
"We were also strong because when Villa came back to 1-1 we found the resources to respond and win the game."
Villa, however, returned to the relegation zone as Wigan went ahead of them on goal difference, while Newcastle and Southampton are three points further ahead.
"We shouldn't have lost it because I thought we were exceptional and we should have been in the lead at halftime," Villa manager Paul Lambert said.
The fact Cazorla scored so early helped to soothe tensions in the Emirates Stadium crowd, with discontent rumbling during a rare visit by American owner Stan Kroenke, who was wrapped in a blanket in freezing north London.
After being set up by Jack Wilshere, Cazorla's first effort was blocked by goalkeeper Brad Guzan but he followed up by sending the rebound into the net.
But Arsenal couldn't keep up its attacking threat despite going in front. Instead, Villa was able to push for an equalizer.
Wojciech Szczesny was kept busy in the Arsenal goal, denying Gabriel Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia.
The hosts created little, although Theo Walcott did manage to curl over, and Olivier Giroud had a shot saved by Guzan toward the end of the first half.
The second half started with Giroud missing the target from close range as he screwed the ball wide.
Wilshere also blazed over before Arsenal was made to pay for its lack of urgency.
Guzan sent a long clearance up the field that Arsenal defender Carl Jenkinson only managed to head away weakly, allowing Villa to seize possession and launch a counterattack.
Weimann rampaged unchallenged through the Arsenal defense before unleashing a low shot from 25 yards past Szczesny.
It was the 19th league goal Arsenal has conceded at home this season - the most in eight years.
A combination of Guzan and the crossbar prevented Giroud heading in the winner from Walcott's corner, as the goalkeeper made a fine save.
But Villa's resistance crumbled as they were ripped apart by an incisive Arsenal move for the winner.
Wilshere released Nacho Monreal on the left flank and the Spaniard cut the ball back to compatriot Cazorla to sweep home.
"I did not expect him to score so many goals, because there are still 11 games to go so he could get a few more," Wenger said. "For me he is a complete player because he also has spirit. He continued to fight until the last minute even though he was a bit tired.
"He is a good example to follow because every day he is happy to come and play and practice. When he is on the pitch he gives you everything."
Updated February 23, 2013