By Richard Clarke at Villa Park
Arsenal prised a point away from Villa Park on Saturday.
Both sides struggled with the conditions on a wet, blustery night in Birmingham, however Arsène Wenger's side will think they may have got more.
They bossed the second half and, though Villa's Brett Holman rattled the bar from distance, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey all went close as the visitors pushed on for the win.
Villa were a threat throughout but a much-changed Arsenal side grew stronger as the game went on.
The final ten minutes saw them camped in the Villa area but, this evening, they just could not cut through.
A solid point, but it might have been three.
Before kick-off, Wenger had rung the changes. Given the run of games they are facing and the nature of the players rested, it was no surprise.
Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna had just returned from long-term injuries while Thomas Vermaelen had been deputising at left-back for Kieran Gibbs.
The latter resumed his normal role this afternoon while Ramsey and Carl Jenkinson came in for the first pair. Mikel Arteta took the captain's armband. This was Wenger trying to manage the workload of his squad.
Arsenal had moved forward significantly in the last two games. However even the conditions suggested that an away victory this evening would have to be earned.
It was cloudy, wet and blustery at Villa Park and the weather would have an effect on the first half. Both sides took time to settle and, in the first 15 minutes, the only action of note came when Andreas Weimann's snap-shot was beaten away by Szczesny at the near post. Villa had been struggling this season but their tenacious midfield and early balls to attacking full-backs caused Arsenal problems. Gradually the visitors did settle. A shot from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went wide, then Podolski bulldozered through only to be stopped just before he could convert. On the half-hour, Oxlade-Chamberlain darted to the right-hand byline once again. His cut-back found Ramsey, whose low shot was booted away by Brad Guzan. However Villa would respond. In the 38th minute, Szczesny intercepted the ball but his momentum and the greasy surface took him out of the area on the left-hand side. Barry Bannan's free-kick was fired goalward by Ron Vlaar. It deflected to Weimann who converted from close-range, though the offside flag had been rightly raised.
The ‘goal' heralded a mini-onslaught from Villa but Arsenal would have the best chance in the final seconds. Olivier Giroud fired in a cross from the left and a tumbling Laurent Koscielny sliced his shot over the bar. Cazorla had been unusually quiet in the first half but he nearly broke the deadlock in the opening seconds of the second. He exchanged passes with Giroud during an angled run across the Villa half, but his powerful shot bent just past the post. In the 56th minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain's clever run ended with Ramsey stabbing an effort wide at the near post. Villa would win a number of corners but, overall, Arsenal had improved. Podolski had a shot blocked and the resulting corner was flicked on by Giroud to Ramsey at the far post. The Welshman could only slide an effort into the crowd. Arsenal's increasing ambition gave Villa more space on the break. In the 67th minute the defence backed off Holman, who fed Gabriel Agbonlahor on the left. He fired low and hard but straight at Szczesny. Cazorla set up Ramsey but the Villa defence were upon him and blocked the effort then,15 minutes from time, he slid another shot just wide. However a couple of minutes later, Szczesny fingertipped a rocket shot from Holman onto the bar. It would be Villa's last chance. As time ticked away, Arsenal looked the more likely winners. Substitutes Andrey Arshavin and Gervinho nearly combined for the winner but Ciaran Clark cleared the ball away from the Ivorian at the crucial point. They continued to pour forward as the rain poured down. However, time ran out.
Referee: Lee Mason
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