Arsenal took another giant step towards ensuring direct qualification to the Champions League next season, with a dominant home win over Aston Villa on Saturday evening.
The Gunners, who have been on something of a rampage in recent weeks, were unbeaten in the league, since they lost 1-2 to Manchester United in January, going into this game. Their visitors, Aston Villa, had won only once in their last six outings. It should have been an absolute no-contest of a game... and so it was.
Wenger started with Robin van Persie up front, supported by the in-form Theo Walcott and Gervinho, with Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky completing the attacking segment. Mikel Arteta and Alex Song provided the steel in the centre of the park, with Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou at the back.
Villa, meanwhile, named Heskey, former Manchester City player Stephen Ireland and Gabriel Agbonlahor up front, with Stiliyan Petrov, Chris Herd and Marc Albrighton providing midfield support.
Surprisingly it was Villa who got the first shot of the night - Albrighton shot wide in the seventh minute, following a quick break. However, the hosts soon settled into their rhythm and Rosicky and Walcott both forced smart saves and defending from Shay Given and the Villa back line, respectively.
Sagna and Gibbs were looking quick and assured down their respective flanks and it was no surprise then that Kieran Gibbs opened the scoring, in the 16<sup>th minute, after the young Englishman combined with Gervinho out on the left flank.
A rush of corners followed for both sides and while neither team could convert one, it was Arsenal who were celebrating again.
It was Gervinho again at the heart of the action. The African winger won the ball back on the left, before finding Alex Song. Song's chipped through ball found Walcott at the far post and it was 2-0... game over!
Arsenal were suddenly all over the place, sensing more goals and, more importantly, a strong message to send out to their rivals. The club's talismanic captain Robin van Persie and Mikel Arteta wasted good chances in the aftermath of Walcott's goal and Djourou sent his header, on 28 minutes, wide.
The hosts continued to press and were rewarded with a few more corners, as the first half wound down.
Villa came out as strong as they could for the second period, with Agbonlahor trying to use his pace to spring counterattacks. However, he was called offside early in the second half, to spoil what seemed a promising move.
Once again it seemed to take Arsenal a few minutes to warm up and get back into the game. When they did, though, it was back to business as usual. Arteta, Rosicky and Song all tested Given at around the hour mark. The Spaniard in particular was looking very active and had quite a few shorts blocked, parried or saved by Given.
Arsene Wenger brought Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on for Gervinho and Theo Walcott, late in the game and both men promptly proved to be a nuisance. Ramsey saw a shot zip wide in the 75th minute, while Chamberlain's pace proved to be a useful counterattacking tool.
As the match played itself out, Villa were afforded marginally more space and time than they had all evening long. Nevertheless, the fact that Andres Weimman's 83<sup>rd minute shot was only their third of the night (none of which were on target), pretty much sums up the completely dominant Gunners performance.
The icing on the cake was added by Arteta, whose injury-time goal was a well-deserved reward for what was an industrious midfield display. The former Everton man's long range shot simply whistled into the top right corner and Given, with whom he'd been having something of a duel all evening long, could nothing but watch.
The Gunners, crucially, have now extended their lead over local rivals Tottenham to three points (in the race for third position). Spurs played out a goalless draw with Chelsea in the earlier kick-off.
Arsenal now have 58 points from 30 games. They next play QPR, away, on 31 March.
Aston Villa now have 33 points from 29 games. They next play Chelsea, at home, on 31 March.
Arsenal 3 (Gibbs 16', Walcott 25', Arteta 90'+3') beat Aston Villa 0