Skip to content

Screw the style points: Santi Cazorla leads Arsenal to victory over Aston Villa

Feb 23, 2013, 12:09 PM EDT

Britain Soccer Premier League AP

For most of the first half, if not the entire game, Arsenal was arguably the lesser team. Which means nothing, of course. The game is judged by goals, not figure skating judges, and particularly when there’s a very early goal, we should hold off judging teams based on style points.

But when we’re talking about Arsenal, who beat Aston Villa 2-1 at the Emirates on Saturday, the statement becomes ironic. This is a team that used to be defined by their style, an approach that used to win leagues and became an ideological life-preserver once the trophies stopped flowing. The Gunners played beautiful soccer, better soccer, and employed an approach that would give manager Arsène Wenger license to stubbornly insist his team was better after back-breaking losses to Chelsea and Manchester United.

Even though the Gunners came around on Saturday and eventually controlled the match, that philosophical high ground is gone, another rueful side note in Arsenal’s slow decay. But at least they got three points. After Santi Cazorla completed his double in the 85th minute, restoring a lead he’d given the Gunners six minutes into the match, Wenger can do as every other manager in world soccer does and be happy with three points. Trade your contrived morality for three points, Arsène. Sitting fifth in the league, you need them.

(MORE: Considering the evolving Manchester United narrative.)

For some, this assessment of Arsenal may seem harsh. By more objective measures, Arsenal were the controlling side, dominating possession and more than doubling Aston Villa’s shots on goal. Yet it took a while to get there, Villa eventually equalizing through Andreas Weimann mid-way through the second half. Until that point, the teams looked fairly even except for one extremely important moment: Cazorla’s opening goal. That Arsenal is allowing Villa, one of the league’s worst teams, that much of a match at the Emirates is something we’ve had to get used to.

But that larger arc shouldn’t overshadow Cazorla, who put in one of his best performances of a great debut campaign on Saturday. In recent months the Spaniard had failed to match his early season dominance, but against Villa, it returned, with Cazorla complementing his two goals by consistently providing the team’s most dangerous passes.

Though he again had to make room for a slightly more advances Jack Wilshire, Cazorla gave us our first hints that the setup could work. In a left-to-in role, Cazorla was the game’s best player.

It’s something on which Arsenal can build. With the win, they temporarily sit one point behind fourth place Spurs, with Tottenham set to visit West Ham on Monday.

Here’s Cazorla’s opener, a nice bit of control and finishing after his first shot was blocked:

More reaction to the day’s English Premier League results coming throughout your Saturday.

Latest Posts
  1. Champions League Wednesday Preview: Madrid up for grabs, Juventus looks to finish the job

    Apr 21, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT

    Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg Getty Images

    Atletico heads to the Bernabeu for a Madrid derby against Real, as Juventus travels to France hoping to reach the semifinals at Monaco’s expense.

  2. PSG manager Laurent Blanc: Paris will move forward

    Apr 21, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Despite getting knocked out of the Champions League, Laurent Blanc believes his Paris Saint-Germain side is heading in the right direction.

  3. VIDEO: “I Was There” visits LA Blues and LA Red Army for Chelsea’s win over United

    Apr 21, 2015, 9:03 PM EDT

    If you’d like your supporters group to be featured on future episodes of ‘I Was There’ simply send pictures/video to @NBCSportsSoccer or on NBC Sports Soccer on Facebook using the #IWasThere hashtag.

  4. UEFA Champions League roundup: Bayern Munich and Barcelona walk into the semis

    Apr 21, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwe2ymq2mgvlzdu1owi2mjvkzmiwogy1ztfinwfjy2q5 AP

    The first spots in the semifinals have been determined as two of Europe’s top clubs made light work of their opposition today.

  5. Luis Enrique off to the best start in Barcelona history

    Apr 21, 2015, 7:25 PM EDT

    Paris Saint-Germain v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg Getty Images

    Enrique has won 42 of his first 50 games in charge at Barcelona, and has his side gunning for a treble.

  6. Yaya Toure hints at departure from Manchester City

    Apr 21, 2015, 6:37 PM EDT

    AP

    Toure: “No amount of wages will make me stay at a club if I feel that I no longer belong there or if no challenge exists for me.”

  7. VIDEO: Bayern Munich’s second leg comeback the best in UCL history? Here’s a few contenders

    Apr 21, 2015, 5:48 PM EDT

    Deportivo La Coruna v AC Milan Getty Images

    Time to take a trip down memory lane and look at some stunning UCL comebacks.

  8. Bayern Munich 6-1 (7-4, agg.) FC Porto: Bayern obliterate Porto to reach UCL semifinal

    Apr 21, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT

    Thiago, Xabi Alonso Thiago, Xabi Alonso

    Guardiola’s boys batter Porto to reach the final four of the Champions League.

  9. Barcelona 2-0 (5-1, agg.) Paris Saint-Germain: Neymar brace eases Barca into Champions League semifinals

    Apr 21, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT

    AP

    Barcelona reaches the semifinals for the seventh time in eight seasons as the Catalans eliminated PSG from Champions League play.

  10. LIVE — Champions League, at the half: Bayern Munich bags five, will they ever stop scoring?

    Apr 21, 2015, 3:39 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptyzzjc1yzvjmdfknzi4nty4ntyynzbhzdlhmduzmznk AP

    Bayern Munich has put in FIVE first half goals against FC Porto, while Barcelona tightened it’s grip on a semifinal berth.

  11. Report reveals Premier League spenders and gainers with financial breakdown

    Apr 21, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT

    VanGaal Getty Images

    Manchester United spent the most money in the Premier League, while Tottenham made the most.

  12. FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League: Bayern Munich, PSG aim to overturn 3-1 deficits to Barcelona, FC Porto

    Apr 21, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT

    Javier Mascherano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic AP

    Two UCL quarterfinals will take place on Tuesday. Follow them both live, right here.

  13. Wolfsburg, already down 4-1, will be without De Bruyne and Schurrle for Europa League 2nd leg vs Napoli

    Apr 21, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT

    DeBruyne Getty Images

    As they look to mount a dream comeback on the road, the Bundesliga club will be without two of its best attackers.

  14. Report: Arsenal one of four teams in for young Palermo star Paulo Dybala

    Apr 21, 2015, 11:41 AM EDT

    Dybala Getty Images

    Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini has dubbed him the “new Messi” in an attempt to boost his value.

  15. Chris Smalling signs new Manchester United contract through 2019

    Apr 21, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT

    Smalling Getty Images

    With the most goals of any defender in the Premier League, Chris Smalling has emerged as a solid member of Louis van Gaal’s lineup at Old Trafford.

  16. Internal turmoil swirling at Leeds, with transfer lawsuit the latest incident

    Apr 21, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT

    Redfearn Getty Images

    Manager Neil Redfearn is dealing with countless off the field issues, while the club’s legal team now has a new task with problems piling up.

  17. Tim Sherwood may have convinced Ron Vlaar to stay at Villa

    Apr 21, 2015, 9:12 AM EDT

    Vlaar Getty Images

    A player whose departure many thought was a foregone conclusion appears to be reconsidering.

  18. Franz Beckenbauer: Der Kaiser weighs in on Klopp, Dante and Bayern’s CL hopes

    Apr 21, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    franz-beckenbauer-nyc

    NBCSports.com’s Managing Editor Randy Kim spoke with Der Kaiser, as the German legend visited NYC.

Featured video

Hazard seals victory for Chelsea