Aston Villa FC 0-1 Arsenal FC
Arsenal put their treble cup heartbreak behind them to climb into the top three of the Premiership – with a fortuitous goal from Abou Diaby sinking Martin O’Neill’s side.
Diaby, whose only other goal for the Gunners was against Villa at Highbury last season, inadvertently deflected a mishit shot from Julio Baptista past Thomas Sorensen after 10 minutes.
It enabled the visitors to move ahead of Liverpool in the battle to claim a Champions League spot.
Arsenal had been beaten in the Carling Cup final and then crashed out of the FA Cup and Champions League in the space of 11 dismal days.
But if they could have hand-picked a fixture in which to bounce back the treble blow then it would have been Villa and they are now unbeaten in 17 matches with the midlands club.
Arsenal, lacking four players through suspension plus the injured Thierry Henry, were not at their free-flowing best. But they still would have won more comfortably and Jeremie Aliadiere could have finished with a hat-trick had he shown more clinical finishing.
Cesc Fabregas impressed in the centre of midfield for the Gunners, who are now two points in front of Liverpool and with a game in hand.
Villa’s main threat came from John Carew – whose goals had twice eliminated the Gunners from the Champions League when with Valencia – although captain Gareth Barry also impressed.
But two wins in the last 17 league games means Villa are still looking over their shoulder at the wrong end of the table rather than contemplating a late surge for a European spot.
Diaby knew little about the goal which settled the issue. Baptista’s low drive from just outside the box looked to be going wide but it inadvertently struck Diaby, who had made a good run forward, and deflected past goalkeeper Sorensen into the corner of the net.
Villa were indebted to Sorensen for keeping them in contention when Aliadiere sprinted past central defender Olof Mellberg after racing onto Cesc Fabregas’ through-ball. The Danish international managed to divert Aliadiere’s low shot around the post.
Aliadiere’s pace was causing Villa problems and he again bore down on the Villa goal after Denilson had spotted his run but this time, with Mellberg in close attention, he appeared to step on the ball.
Johan Djourou picked up the first yellow card of the game after bringing down Carew on the edge of the Gunners’ box – but Barry’s free-kick was blocked by the defensive wall.
Carew was posing the main threat for Villa and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann came 10 yards outside his area to hack the ball clear as he tried to reach Ashley Young’s through pass.
The Norwegian international curled a shot just over the bar after holding off the challenge of Gilberto. Villa started to build some momentum and Barry beat the offside trap to square the ball invitingly into the path of Young some 12 yards out – but he drilled his shot straight at Lehmann, who was able to parry.
Aliadiere had another chance but this time his downward header from Freddie Ljungberg’s powerful centre bounced over the bar.
Villa started the second period in a positive vein and a 50-yard pass from Mellberg picked out the run of Carew – but he overran the ball and it flew through to Lehmann. Then Gabriel Agbonlahor was only inches away from connecting with a driven centre by Barry.
Ljungberg came to Arsenal’s rescue in the 56th minute when he cleared off the line after Diaby had deflected Barry’s corner goalwards when under pressure from Agbonlahor.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger made his first substitution after 62 minutes, replacing Diaby with Tomas Rosicky. Soon afterwards Baptista made way for Mathieu Flamini, with Ljungberg moving into a more central attacking role.
Villa defender Cahill produced a crucial tackle to halt Ljungberg as the visitors started to reassert themselves – but there was little goalmouth activity in the closing stages.
Match report thanks ESPN Soccernet