Kevin Toner

Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa: Gunners pounce behind Giroud hat-trick to finish second

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The unpredictability of the Premier League season came down to the final day, as Arsenal capitalized on Tottenham’s slip to jump ahead of their bitter rivals to finish second in the league with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa, highlighted by a hat-trick from Olivier Giroud.

The Aston Villa back line, as it has all season, leaked in the opening five minutes, as a beautiful backheel from Alexis Sanchez sprung Nacho Monreal down the left, and his cross met the head of a wide-open Olivier Giroud in the box, finishing with a thumping header into the back of the net for the opener. Four Villa defenders surrounded Giroud, yet none came to challenge for the cross, and the Frenchman buried the chance to make it a goal in each of his last six matches against West Brom.

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The Gunners had the chance for a second past the half-hour mark as Sanchez popped a ball from one side of the box to the other, where Jack Wilshere was streaking free, but the leaping English international couldn’t control enough for a shot. The chances began to pile up for the home side as their quick-touch attack continued to open the locks, but with Arsenal unable to finish off a second, Villa started to grow in confidence.

In the 38th minute, the visitors found their first chance. Jordan Ayew picked up the ball in the box and stayed strong under a challenge from Gabriel. Still on the ball, he found Scott Sinclair who dragged his shot wide, but that brought Petr Cech out of goal. As Villa tried desperately to get the ball back into an area where a shot can be taken, Nacho Monreal made the all-important block to clear the danger.

[ MORE: Final Premier League standings ]

Five minutes after halftime, Arsenal had a penalty shout waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg. A cross from Mesut Ozil was seeking the head of Giroud, but although the Frenchman appeared to absorb a shove in the back from defender Kevin Toner as the ball went by, Clattenburg said no.

The Gunners wasted another chance in the 72nd minute as their quick-touch play opened Sanchez just outside the post, and while his cross deflected off Ozil and up into the air, it came down to substitute Mohamed Elneny who rifled a difficult volley way over.

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As the Spurs scoreline appeared on the big screen at the Emirates with 15 minutes to go, the ground burst to life knowing a win would push them past their North London rivals. That gave the Gunners a boost, and they’d capitalize to finally put the game away. Ozil and Sanchez played a one-two on the right side of the box, and Ozil’s cross found Giroud, who dove to beat Toner to the ball and crash it in for a 2-0 lead. All the Arsenal players went to celebrate with longtime Gunner Tomas Rosicky on the touchline.

Giroud would grasp his hat-trick just moments later as a ball from Hector Bellerin cut right through the heart of the Villa back line, finding the Frenchman completely free to claim Arsenal’s third. Mikel Arteta forced an own-goal by goalkeeper Mark Bunn in added time to wrap it all up.

The three points officially end the year with the Gunners on 71 points, one above Tottenham who lost to Newcastle, and 10 behind champions Leicester City. It’s the 21st consecutive season that Arsenal has finished above Spurs. Aston Villa finish bottom of the table with a paltry 17 points.