LONDON: Arsenal hit five goals in a game for the first time in 110 matches and their potency highlighted further Aston Villa's wretchedness in front of goal. Paul Lambert's side have failed to score in the Premier League in more than 10 hours now.
Arsenal were good, counter-attacking swiftly and menacingly, exploiting Villa's high-risk high line and lack of substance in midfield.
Only Carles Gil looked capable of taking the game to the hosts. Arsenal exuded class all over, not least in the line-leading of Olivier Giroud, the elegant touches of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla and the pace and confidence of Theo Walcott. If this had been a boxing bout, the referee would have stepped in to prevent Villa suffering further pain and punishment.
Not since Jan 23, 2013, and a 5-1 victory against West Ham United here had Arsenal registered as many goals. Of the many pleasing elements of the performance for Arsene Wenger was the spread of scorers, a spree started early by Giroud continued in the second half by Ozil, Walcott, Cazorla and Hector Bellerin, the teenager scoring his first ever Arsenal goal. All achieved without the prolific, presently lame Alexis Sanchez.
This was also the first time that Arsenal have won three consecutive games in the Premier League this season and they seem to be gathering momentum at just the right time, with a visit to White Hart Lane coming up next Saturday lunchtime.
"Tottenham Hotspur, we're coming for you," chanted the Arsenal fans as the final whistle confirmed their leapfrogging of Spurs into fifth. Given the recent form of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, the Lane promises a test of the new-look, newly resilient Arsenal.
They again looked more secure with an orthodox holding midfielder protecting the back-four, Francis Coquelin repeating his successful role at the Etihad Stadium although he was hardly overworked by wilting Villa. If Wenger's belated appreciation of the importance of a proper screen to shield the defence gives Arsenal fans more reason to feel positive for the future, so did another assured performance from David Ospina.
Wenger observed in his programmes notes that Ospina was "in a fight" with Wojciech Szczesny to decide his starting goalkeeper and the Colombian seems ahead of the Pole, having started three Premier League games in succession now and not conceded a goal. Ospina was strong dealing with corners from Gil and pulled off two excellent saves to deny Andreas Weimann and the substitute Ashley Westwood.
Yet in registering praise for Arsenal's work, due allowance must be made for the weak nature of the opposition. Paul Lambert's side are not at risk of being dragged into a relegation dogfight; they are already in one. Villa are 16th, three points clear of the drop zone. Unless they wisen up and sharpen up, Villa could be in for a nasty shock. Against Arsenal they were devoid of belief and at times incapable of doing the basics, such as passing to a team-mate.
The match statistics did not make necessarily grim reading for Lambert, showing that his team had 52 per cent possession, forced as many corners as Arsenal (seven) and managed nine attempts on goal, although only two were on target, those efforts from Weimann and Westwood.
Beyond Gil's attempts to bring accuracy and technical expertise to the visitors' movements, Villa let down their travelling support badly.
Central midfield was close to being a wasteland. Carlos Sanchez endured one of his worst games of the season, seemingly unable to pick out a colleague, and Lambert's decision to start Westwood on the bench backfired. Tom Cleverley was anonymous.
Further forward, Christian Benteke was a shadow of his former barnstorming self, more middleweight than his old heavyweight threat.
Lambert sent on Scott Sinclair and the winger, making his debut on loan from Manchester City, had a couple of promising runs but the sight of another substitute, Gabby Agbonlahor, drew an element of bemusement.
Agbonlahor loves spending time in the gym, whether at Bodymoor Heath or at home, but he looked almost too worked-out, too heavily muscled. For a player whose pace has always been an asset, acquiring a physique akin to a body-builder is dangerous. What looks good on the beach does not necessarily assist acceleration on the pitch. Villa need Agbonlahor at his best with Benteke struggling.
The former Villa striker and lifelong fan of the club, Stan Collymore, was broadcasting from the match for talkSPORT and offered to come in to -Bodymoor Heath and give Lambert's attackers some help. The 44-year-old could get a game if this drought worsens. Lambert's position is not under a threat, a point emphasised recently by Tom Fox, the club's highly regarded chief executive recruited from Arsenal.
Villa's manager has to contend with significant financial constraints, but he has brought in players like Gil and Sinclair, signed Fabian Delph to a long-term deal, and now needs to organise his defence better, instill more confidence into midfield and get Benteke marauding again.
Villa fans were very loyal here, uttering little dissent but maybe they were simply speechless after this shapeless, leaderless display, taking their Premier League goal drought to 612 minutes. You could fly to Las Vegas from Heathrow in that time.
Arsenal have certainly taken off in recent weeks and began flying away from Villa after eight minutes. When Per Mertesacker's clearance hurtled his way, Ozil quickly checked Giroud's movement and subtly, sweetly, with the outside of his boot, flicked the ball into space for the Frenchman to run on to. It was a sumptuous assist, allowing Giroud to advance and lift the ball over Brad Guzan. Villa's centre-halves, Jores Okore and Ciaran Clark, were totally caught out. Ron Vlaar was again badly missed.
Arsenal hunted a second. Cazorla struck a post. Guzan saved well from Aaron Ramsey. Villa flickered with promise either side of half-time. Weimann met Gil's fine cross but Ospina smothered his header.
The mirage continued for a few minutes after the break, Villa looking briefly lively but they were then destroyed by Arsenal racing through the gears, flying downfield, scoring and scoring.
After 56 minutes, Giroud played the ball to Ozil who was running down the inside-left channel and the World Cup-winner fired accurately past Guzan. Again, Villa's defenders were AWOL. Seven minutes later, Walcott seized on a Cazorla ball that might have been intended for another recipient, swept the ball away from Alan Hutton and then drove it past Guzan from the edge of the area. As Walcott turned to thank Cazorla, there will have been similar satisfaction for the watching England manager, Roy Hodgson, and his assistant, Gary Neville, who have been monitoring Walcott's return to fitness.
Cazorla was running the game, curling in a free-kick that Giroud headed against the bar, and then scoring the fourth from the spot after Giroud's replacement, Chuba Akpom, was brought down by Guzan. Villa's keeper was beaten again shortly before the final whistle. Cazorla rolled the ball across to Bellerin, who placed it expertly into the net from 20 yards. The game ended with Ospina keeping out Westwood's shot, leaving Villa downcast and Arsenal uplifted.