Gunners handed a lesson in finishing by England striker, as Villans overcame total domination to record surprising victory against hosts who fell short in ideas department
The result leaves Arsenal's ambitions of a third place Premier league finish in the balance, while confirming Aston Villa's top flight status for yet another season.
The visitors - Darren Bent in particular - capitalized on a slow start by the Gunners to steal into a two goal lead within 15 minutes.
Bent's brace showed finishing of the highest caliber. His first was scored in fluid motion, taking the ball down on his chest, before guiding it on the volley into the top corner, while the second was coolly slotted underneath Wojciach Szczesny moments later.
From there onward, it was, quite literally, all Arsenal. Yet despite relentless waves forward, it was simply unable to get the ball in the back of the net, with Villa hanging on for the entire second half to secure the victory.
Aaron Ramsay was handed another start after both Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas failed late fitness tests, as the Gunners welcomed back Thomas Vermaelen from his extended spell in the treatment room. Gary McAllister kept faith with the side that had to settle for a draw against Wigan last week, with the solitary change being Fabien Delph’s inclusion at the expense of Emile Heskey.
As befitting of a game between two sides who have been unconvincing of late, assured touches on the ball came at a premium in the game’s opening exchanges. Sebastien Squillaci’s moment of hesitation almost let Bent in, but the striker laid the ball off to Ashley Young and the England man failed to deliver.
Arsenal were then made to pay the price for its listlessness at the back when Bent finished excellently to give the visitors the lead. The Gunners failed to deal with a ball in from deep after they cleared a corner and with Squillaci in no-mans land, Bent brought the ball down on his chest before guiding it, on the volley, beyond Szczesny and into the top corner.
The goal galvanized Aston Villa, who suddenly found some rhythm to their play. Just moments after the opener, an incisive pass from Ashley Young released Bent, who then doubled the visitors’ lead after outsmarting the offside trap and tucking clinically under Szczesny.
Arsenal looked shell-shocked in response to Bent’s quick-fire brace and it wasn’t until Alex Song drove at the heart of the Villa defense that they offered any sort of quality on the ball. The Cameroonian released Theo Walcott down the right hand side of the box but before the winger could produce an end product, Richard Dunne snuffed out the danger.
Bent double | Striker celebrates match-winning brace
As the game developed the Gunners began to show the characteristics that they normally bring to the table. A delightful move carved open the Villa back four, only to culminate in Arsenal unjustly being denied a penalty. Jack Wilshere picked out Aaron Ramsay’s run from deep and after the Welshman brought the ball down on his chest and prepared to pull the trigger, he was clearly brought down by Richard Dunne, who escaped with no punishment.
The sense of injustice seemed to spark Arsenal – and the crowd – into life and threatening surges forward came thick and fast. With Wilshere pulling the strings, a lack of killer instinct accompanied the regular forays into the Villa final third, the most notable of which being Robin van Persie rattling the post after doing well to carve out space in the box.
As the first half came to a close, the Gunners continued to probe fruitlessly, with the home fans venting their frustration at any opportunity and the Gunners leaving the pitch to a cacophony of boos.
Wenger signaled his intent to get something from the game as he brought on Marouane Chamakh for Squillaci as the teams came back out. The change took effect immediately, with Arsenal bursting out of the blocks, though Andrey Arshavin took the brunt of the home fans frustration after he fired into Friedel’s hands from just inside the area, before failing to thread a pass into the path of Wilshere’s lung-bursting run beyond the back four.
The best chance of the game fell to the hosts shortly after, though its desire to walk the ball into the back of the net cost them dearly, with Van Persie the chief offender. The Dutchman fortuitously found the ball at his feet after he made the incorrect decision to pass rather than shoot, feeding in Kieron Gibbs, who forced a fine stop from Friedel from point blank range. From the resulting corner Van Persie found himself in some space on the edge of the box though he rifled high and wide.
Still Arsenal knocked and the introduction of Nicklas Bendtner almost paid immediately dividends. The substitute flicked on a corner, though with little time to react, Walcott could only flick the ball wide.
For all their bluster going forward, Arsenal rarely threatened Friedel, though that could be more to do with the commanding presences of Richard Dunne and James Collins, who blocked a large number of efforts on goal, which was symptomatic of Arsenal’s desire to waltz the ball into the back of the net.
When the Gunners did finally get the ball into the back of the net, it was, once again, somewhat unjustly denied. Chamakh rose well to power a header past Friedel at the back post, but the Moroccan was adjusted to have shoved Collins in the back. On closer inspection, there was little in it.
Finally, Arsenal got the breakthrough it had threatened all game just one minute before the end of normal time. Bendtner bundled his way through the box and the ball somehow landed at the feet of Van Persie, who poke home with ease.That moment proved the last of note in the game, with the final whistle being met with a chorus of boos, as Aston Villa secured the win that confirmed their Premier League status for next season.
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