London - Yossi Benayoun left it late to steal the points for Arsenal as the
Israel midfielder's 87th minute header clinched a 2-1 win at Aston Villa
Arsenal had taken an early lead through Robin van Persie, who now has 34
goals for the calendar year after a first half penalty – equalling
Thierry Henry's club record – and is only three goals away from beating
Alan Shearer's Premier League record.
Villa winger Marc Albrighton etched his own name into the history books
when he equalised in the second half with the 20 000th Premier League
goal, but Benayoun's header three minutes from time ensured Arsenal won
for the eighth time in 10 matches.
The Gunners' victory moved them level on points with fourth placed Chelsea ahead of the Blues' trip to Tottenham on Thursday.
The hosts have now crashed to four defeats in the last five matches and
had Scotland international Alan Hutton dismissed in injury time for an
appalling challenge on Thomas Vermaelen.
Alex McLeish, the Villa manager, had described Arsenal as "formidable"
in the build-up, despite their title hopes lying in tatters, and Arsene
Wenger's side were the dominant force after a nervous opening few
Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szcesny produced a point-blank save from
Gabriel Agbonlahor, after an inch perfect cross from Charles N'Zogbia,
after seven minutes.
But the visitors were handed the initiative on 16 minutes when Theo
Walcott won a penalty as he advanced into the area and was needlessly
brought down by Ciaran Clark.
The goal came from the most predictable of sources, with Van Persie
emphatically ramming home his 16th Premier League goal of the season.
Villa required goalkeeper Brad Guzan to rush from his line to prevent
Walcott from adding a second shortly afterwards, and the early
confidence from the hosts was shattered and replaced with apprehension.
Stephen Ireland was recalled by McLeish for his first start since
October but the midfielder appeared confused with his role, playing in a
deep lying position behind Agbonlahor, and was substituted shortly
before halftime with an injury.
Ireland's replacement, Barry Bannan, came agonisingly close to making an
immediate impact by bending a free kick narrowly over with his first
But Albrighton wrote his name into Premier League history nine minutes
into the second period when he capitalised on a weak header from
Vermaelen to break into the area and coolly slot the ball under
Arsenal, and Van Persie, were convinced they should have had another
penalty when Stephen Warnock brought down the Dutchman but all he
received was a booking.
But it was Van Persie's corner that allowed Benayoun to head home the winner and extend their hoodoo over Villa.
The home side's frustration was complete when Hutton received a second booking for scything down Vermaelen.