Post, but no cigar.

Arsenal were frustrated by not only their opponents but also the woodwork as Aston Villa underlined their status as legitimate top four contenders at Villa Park. Arsene Wenger predictably made nine changes to the side that was knocked out of the FA Cup by Stoke on Sunday, with only Denilson and Cesc Fabregas surviving the cull.

The more familiar defensive partnership of William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen, flanked by Gael Clichy and Bacary, was far better equipped to deal with Aston Villa’s attacking threat than those who had faced off at the Britannia Stadium three days earlier. The quartet didn’t last even until half time however, with the Belgian Vermaelen suffering a leg injury that forced the arrival of Sol Campbell. It was feared that the defender may face a long lay off with a serious leg injury, but it has since been suggested that he may only miss the visit of Manchester United on Sunday. While this is certainly preferable, the prospect of an out of practice Campbell facing off against the league’s hottest striker in Wayne Rooney may cause Wenger some sleepless nights from now until the weekend.

At Villa Park it was, as ever, a certain Spanish midfielder that inspired the visitors’ most threatening attacks. Despite the hosts’ having the best of a rather subdued first half, it was Arsenal who came closest to taking a lead into the break. Fabregas collected the ball on the halfway line, and after beating several Villa defenders, fired past Brad Friedel and onto the far post. The rebound fell nicely for Tomas Rosicky, but Aaron Ramsey agonisingly took the ball off his foot as he prepared to shoot.  Cesc’ frustration was clear to see as implored his players to talk.

The Czech Republic international hit the woodwork himself later in the game, as he attempted to apply the finishing touch to a scintillating thirty yard run from Andrey Arshavin. The Russian had a quiet game, but showed his class as he galloped effortlessly past three Villa players before being denied by Friedel.

With Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool the next three opponents for the Gunners, this can be considered as two points dropped. Add to that the injuries to both Vermaelen and Eduardo and it was in fact a pretty dour night for the title contenders.  On the contrary, Martin O’Neill will be buoyed by his sides recovery since they suffered back to back defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool. Since Fernando Torres’ injury time winner on December 29th, The Villains have progressed to the final of the Carling Cup, the Fifth round of the FA Cup, and steadied their league form with successive draws.

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