Arsenal climbed above rivals Tottenham Hotspur into fifth in the Premier League and inflicted more misery on a goal-shy Aston Villa with an emphatic 5-0 victory on Sunday that fuelled their top-four hopes. France forward Olivier Giroud opened the scoring at the Emirates Stadium in the eighth minute after he was sent clear by Mesut Ozil's delightful flick before the German added a second with a low finish.
Theo Walcott added a third after a razor-sharp counter attack, Santi Cazorla scored a fourth from the penalty spot after substitute Chuba Akpom was felled by Brad Guzan and Hector Bellerin completed the rout with a wonderfully-placed fifth.
Arsenal have 42 points from 23 games, two clear of Spurs, and trail fourth-placed Southampton, who host Swansea City in Sunday's late game, on goal difference and third-placed Manchester United by a point.
Villa, 16th and without a win since December 7, have not scored a Premier League goal since December 20 are three points above the relegation zone.
"I think the
first half was quite cautious, Aston Villa came at us with a game plan and they pressurised us," Walcott told Sky Sports.
"Going into the break we thought 1-0 was just deserved but the second half I couldn't think of a more one-sided game. It was a great victory and it's always important to get a lot of goals."
Arsenal's start was relentless and after a number of chances they took the lead in the eighth minute through Giroud, who was sent clear by Ozil's sublime flick to chip a neat finish over Villa keeper Guzan.
Ozil had a goal disallowed for offside and, after soaking up a wave of Arsenal pressure, Villa could have been level when Andreas Weimann's close-range header was parried by David Ospina to prolong Villa's goal drought.
Within a minute of the restart Villa carved out a second opportunity but Christian Benteke skewed his shot wide.
The hosts' start to the second period had been laboured before Ozil found space in the area and his low shot crept into the corner. Arsenal added a third seven minutes later when Walcott curled home to cap yet another lightning-quick counter-attack.
Substitute forward Akpom was brought down by Guzan and though Cazorla's penalty was straight at him the goalkeeper was unable to keep it out. Bellerin added a fifth with a brilliant low finish to cap Arsenal's third successive league victory and clean sheet, subjecting Villa to a club record sixth Premier League game without a goal.