Premier League – Villa down Arsenal at Emirates
Aston Villa inflicted a rare home defeat on Arsenal as Martin O’Neill’s side ran out 2-0 winners at the Emirates Stadium.
Following the euphoria of beating United last weekend, Arsenal were brought back down to earth with a bump as their title credentials once again came under serious scrutiny.
This was their fourth defeat of the season and while Arsene Wenger’s side seem more than capable of beating the likes of United, their ability to pick themselves up after the big games is questionable.
For Villa the win gave their hopes of breaking into the so-called Big Four and claiming a Champions League place a real shot in the arm.
Nicklas Bendtner was the first to benefit, the England winger’s third minute cross finding the Dane six yards out, only for him to glance a header wide of the mark when he should have at least found the target.
Two minutes later Walcott went for goal himself after having been played though by a clever Denilson pass; his shot flashed wide of the far post and Villa were let off the hook.
Arsenal were made to rue their early profligacy as Villa grew in confidence and went on to enjoy the better of the remainder of the first half.
That they did not go into the dressing rooms at half-time a goal to the good had much to do with the form of Almunia in the Arsenal goal.
The Spaniard denied Young the opener from the penalty spot – following Walcott’s trip on the Villa winger in the box – with a smart stop down to his right on 20 minutes.
And he was again brought into action moments later when Steve Sidwell – playing against this former club – took a pass down on his chest, swivelling and shooting in one swift movement.
Like Walcott in the opening moments, Ashley Young began to enjoy himself as the opening period wore on, the winger going close to scoring on the half-hour mark with a 25-yard shot that whistled wide of the upright.
Gareth Barry should have broken the deadlock on 37 minutes, but his first-time effort from Agbonlahor’s pull back to the penalty spot was straight at Almunia who was allowed to make what was in the end a comfortable save.
After the break Arsenal upped their game once again, Walcott again posing their main attacking threat in the absence of the suspended Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor, who started on the bench on his comeback from injury.
But it was Villa who took the lead after 70 minutes, Ashley Young delivering a teasing cross towards Agbonlahor in the danger area; Clichy followed the flight of the ball but could only direct his attempted headed clearance into the back of his own net.
The warning went unheeded, and Villa continued to sit back in a bid to protect their lead.
But they soon opened up a two-goal cushion, Agbonlahor punishing Arsenal with a cool finish past Almunia after having held off the challenge of William Gallas as Villa broke quickly.
Arsenal have become famous for their late comebacks at the Emirates, but there was to be no miracles this time, Fabregas going the closest to pulling one back as time ran out, only to see Friedel tip his effort over the bar.