LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Thomas Vermaelen (top) of Arsenal in action against Darren Bent of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on May 15, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
0 - 1 Darren Bent 12'
0 - 2 Bent 15'
1 - 2 Robin van Persie 89'
Arsenal succumbed to another defeat at the Emirates today after a lightning brace from Darren Bent put the home side under tremendous pressure in a chippy contest in North London. With the victory, Aston Villa have ensured their safety from relegation, while Arsenal are in real danger of falling to fourth place, and will do so if Manchester City win their last two matches.
'Tweren't a good final home game of the season, in other words.
Thomas Vermaelen made his first senior appearance for Arsenal since September, pairing with Sebastien Squillaci. It was perhaps a slight worry, as the two haven't played together much this year, and Squillaci hasn't been too solid against direct play. Eleven minutes in, Aston Villa gave a warning of what was coming as Bent nearly broke through after a bad pass from Bacary Sagna was sent back with interest. Bent couldn't latch on cleanly, though, and was turned away. A minute later, though, he found his joy.
Arsenal tried to clear a Villa corner, but Theo Walcott didn't really get it far enough away, and Kyle Walker clipped a ball over the top for Bent. Squillaci was sluggish getting up to his line, played the poacher onside, and Bent nicely chested the ball down and lobbed a shot over the onrushing, stranded Wojciech Szczesny. It was far too easy, basic stuff executed well, and Arsenal were down. The Villa support went berzonkers, and soon would even more.
Three minutes after his opener, Bent would find a second. Ashley Young received a pass on the right, Vermaelen marking him. The Belgian slipped, however, and Young turned and fired a pass right onto the boot of Bent, who had completely eluded Bacary Sagna while staying onside. Bent calmly slotted home his second in three minutes under Szczesny, and the Emirates, save for one section, may well have been the surface of the moon.
Arsenal gradually started to work their way back into the match despite not playing their best stuff, winning a series of corners over the next fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes in, the most significant attack for Arsenal resulted in Aaron Ramsey bulling his way into the box. As he received a return pass and shaped to shoot, Richard Dunne clipped his shooting foot, but referee Mike Oliver saw nothing wrong with what, on any other day, would have been a penalty kick and possible yellow for Dunne. Ramsey was beside himself, but play continued.
Six minutes later, van Persie worked his way into the box on the left, but had no support. It didn't bother him as he jinked back and forth, finally letting loose with an effort that cannoned away off the inside of the post past a wrong-footed Theo Walcott.
As half time approached, van Persie held of Dunne at the edge of the area and received service. As he turned, his foot was entangled with Dunne's, and the Irishman fell over. Oliver adjudged van Persie in the wrong, and his scoring opportunity disappeared. There did not appear to anything illegal in what happened, but Oliver must have felt van Persie tripped Dunne in his turn. Half time arrived with Arsenal down 2-0.
Arsène Wenger made a move at halftime, taking Squillaci off and replacing him with striker Marouane Chamakh. Alex Song slid back to center half (and proceeded to make 43 passes in the second half, most of which came in the Villa half anyway, bless him), and van Persie moving in behind Chamakh. The Moroccan had a good half, putting in a tireless shift and causing problems for Dunne and James Collins whenever possible.
Arsenal pushed men forward in numbers, but couldn't find their shooting touch, Wilshere volleying well over on one occasion and not shooting on another. Villa looked to counter and did on one occasion, Stewart Downing denied by Szczesny after the latter saved from a low Ashley Young drive. Arsenal continued to press hard for goals, and one seemed to have come in the 76th minute as Chamakh headed home powerfully from a Walcott cross. Oliver, however, blew his whistle. It wasn't clear exactly why, but the implication seemed to be that Chamakh had pushed off.
He hadn't. It was as good a goal as one will see, ever.
Two minutes later, Chamakh let loose with another shot that Brad Friedel saved well. Michael Bradley came on for an injured Stiliyan Petrov. Arsenal's time was running out, and they wasted a free kick from 25 yards on 83 minutes.
Finally a breakthrough would come from a corner as regular time waned. Chamakh headed the ball down, and in the scramble, van Persie was able to prod it home to make it 2-1. There were some scuffles on the ensuing kickoff, and four minutes went up for injury time. Arsenal's best chance would come on another free kick, which Vermaelen hit into the wall. It was to be their last real chance, and Oliver blew time on the victory that sees Villa stay in the Premier League for sure.
Arsenal, meanwhile, need help to hang on to third place and a free pass to the Champions League group stages. If they don't, they will have to play a two-leg qualifier to get there in August.