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 that fuelled their top-four hopes.
Goals from Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Héctor Bellerín helped Arsenal move level on points with fourth-placed Southampton and a step closer to a Champions League qualification spot.
The day got better for Arsene Wenger’s side when a stunning Jonjo Shelvey strike gave Swansea City a surprise 1-0 away win at Southampton who had defender Ryan Bertrand sent off late on.
France forward Giroud opened the scoring at the Emirates Stadium in the eighth minute after he was sent clear by Özil’s delightful flick before the German added a second with a low finish.
Walcott added a third after a razor-sharp counter attack, Cazorla scored a fourth from the penalty spot after substitute Chuba Akpom was felled by Brad Guzan and Bellerin completed the rout with a wonderfully-placed fifth.
“You could see that mentally for Aston Villa the second goal was a big blow to them and from then on it became easier,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “They are in a difficult position and certainly they saw at 2-0 it would be difficult for them to come back.
“Overall we needed to be a bit patient because Aston Villa tried to stop us going forward by blocking us very early. You could see with time going on we had the chance to go forward and play through their lines. That made the difference.
“We were more direct because they blocked us very high, but when we passed through we always looked dangerous.”
Arsenal have 42 points from 23 games, two clear of Spurs, and trail 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, a run of six games, and are three points above the relegation zone.