Before the dent in the form table suffered in the hands of Manchester City, Arsene Wenger’s men had accumulated 22 points from a possible 24 and really looked good to challenge for a Champions League slot.
Arsenal has been on the verge of a defensive meltdown in terms of personnel and the team’s cause wasn’t helped when the injury-prone Kieran Gibbs suffered another setback.
You’ll have to feel for that youngster because his injury problems haven’t allowed him to challenge for a first-team spot following the exit of the stalwart Gael Clichy.
With Johan Djourou nursing a groin injury and Alex Song out on suspension, Wenger handed rare starts to Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong.
At the start of Matchday 17, there was a witch hunt for the player that was going to score the 20,000th Premier League goal, and many Gooners were tipping Robin van Persie to reach that landmark.
A usually lacklustre Aston Villa drew first blood when Gabby Agbonlahor sent a header goalwards that brought out a save from the top drawer by Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal took the lead when Theo Walcott used his blistering pace to evade Clark but the defender got a handful of the winger’s jersey, leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot.
There was no guessing who the penalty taker would be.
Robin van Persie stepped up to slam the spot kick home to make him two goals shy of equaling Alan Shearer’s superb record of goals in a year that stands at 36.
Van Persie almost turned from scorer to provider when his superb pass to Walcott couldn’t go beyond the goalie as the winger tried an impudent chip.
Stiliyan Petrov let one fly from 30 yards but Szczesny was on hand to make another save.
Mark Albrighton was a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh down the right but Arsenal ended the half with a goal to the good.
Just 10 minutes into the second half, Arsenal became the plotters of their own downfall as Thomas Vermaelen’s header to Per Mertesacker was intercepted by Albrighton.
The youngster shimmied past the German before placing the ball past Szczesny to level the score for the home side.
That was also the landmark goal the Premier League historians were looking for.
Albrighton put his name in the record books for scoring the 20,000th goal in Premier League history.
The Gunners almost responded when Mertesacker got on the end of van Persie’s corner, but goalkeeper Brad Guzan made a good save.
Arsene Wenger brought on Tomas Rosicky to add some verve to the attack and the game began to settle into a dull encounter.
Van Persie tried to rally his troops as he made a surging run into the box before hitting the deck after a challenge from Stephen Warnock, but the ref wasn’t impressed so he brandished a card to the Flying Dutchman for simulation.
Wenger played the final cards in his deck when he brought on Yossi Benayoun and Andrey Arshavin to salvage a win for his team and get his reward right at the death.
It was also heartwarming to know that the subs had a hand in Arsenal’s match clincher.
Arshavin hit a shot that was deflected out for a corner, and Yossi Benayoun nodded the ball home from the resulting corner to send Gooners worldwide into raptures.
Late on, Aston Villa’s Alan Hutton was sent off for his second bookable offence.
Szczesny (7.0) did well when he was called upon.
Vermaelen (6.5) had a hand in Aston Villa’s goal but did okay.
Mertesacker’s (6.5) lack of pace was exploited by a quicker Mark Albrighton.
Coquelin (6.0) wasn’t too impressive at right back. Arsene Wenger has to buy soon.
Koscielny (7.0) worked really hard in defence.
Frimpong (6.5) failed to exert his authority in midfield as Song would have done.
Arteta (7.0) worked hard in the middle of the park.
Ramsey (6.5) was a bit lethargic but did okay in general.
Walcott (7.0) used his pace to win a "penalty."
Gervinho (6.5) played his final game before going for the African Cup of Nations. He’ll be sorely missed.
Van Persie (7.0) is two goals short of history.
Rosicky (6.5) put up a good cameo.
Arshavin (6.5) had a hand in Arsenal’s equalizer with an attempt that went out for a corner.
Benayoun (7.0) spared Wenger’s blushes.
With Chelsea visiting White Hart Lane to play Arsenal’s archriva Tottenham, a win was paramount to put both sides on real pressure to deliver.
Arsenal is currently level on points with Chelsea and just two behind Tottenham.
What Arsene Wenger would give for a boring 0-0 draw in White Hart Lane tonight?
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