The home side welcomed Thomas Vermaelen back for his first start for eight months and they tried to ease the Belgian and themselves into the game with a patient start. Villa were much more direct in possession. Stewart Downing and Ashley Young hugged the touchlines and were easily found by their hard-working midfield. The expansive nature of their wide play stretched Arsenal and isolated the full-backs. Kieran Gibbs had a practically busy day although the England left-back dealt well with not only Downing cutting inside but the rampaging Kyle Walker, who was constantly trying to spring forward.
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It was the keen full-back who provided the first of Bent’s two goals. Arsenal cleared their lines as far as Walker in a central position and with everyone focusing on the ball, he clipped it into the area. Bent took the ball on his chest and before it could drop, looped it over Wojciech Szczesny. Four minutes later Young was allowed time and space thanks to a slip by Vermaelen. The winger turned and played in Bent to finish through the legs of the Polish ‘keeper; having been played onside by Bagary Sagna. The travelling support were in raptures; the home support muted.
Having given Villa a two-goal lead Arsenal started to play with urgency. Jack Wilshere picked out Aaron Ramsey with a ball over the top but he was stopped, fairly in the eyes of Michael Oliver, by Richard Dunne. The moment incensed the Emirates crowd, who were expecting a penalty although replays showed Ramsey had not judged his attempted strike all that well. Chances for the pressing Arsenal were few and far between. Robin van Persie misfired on a couple of occasions. The central defense pairing of Dunne and James Collins were seemingly first to every ball played in their direction. Arsenal, not for the first time this season, lacked a more direct back-up plan. The Villa defence were well organised and squeezed the space of their hosts.
Van Persie did poke home a consolation in the 89th minute shortly after substitute Marouane Chamakh had had a goal ruled out for a push on his marker. In truth, a draw would have been harsh on Aston Villa who went about their task admirably when few expected them to compete. The result leaves Arsenal in real danger of having to navigate a tricky two-legged qualifier to get into the lucrative group stages. If Manchester City earn maximum points from their two remaining games, Arsenal will be forced to settle for fourth place in the Premier League.