Villa leave Gunners on the floor
© AFP

Aston Villa underlined their credentials to gatecrash the English Premier League's top four with a richly deserved 2-0 win at Arsenal. Martin O'Neill's side shrugged off a poor run of recent results to inflict only the Gunners' third defeat at the Emirates Stadium, thanks to Gael Clichy's own goal and a second from the impressive Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Villa can can now harbour serious aspirations of UEFA Champions League football next season but for Arsene Wenger, a fourth league defeat of the season posed more awkward questions about his team's own capabilities.

Arsenal's already faint hopes of contesting the title race have surely been extinguished, and the ambition now must extend to no more than clinging on to their place in the top four. On this evidence, there can be no guarantee of that.

It was not so much this result which will concern Wenger, as the comfortable way Villa achieved it. Martin O'Neill swamped his midfield, squeezing the space and attempting to exploit Arsenal's vulnerabilities down the flanks through James Milner and Ashley Young.

It worked to perfection. Arsenal never established any semblance of rhythm, and the only consolation for Wenger was that the defeat was not heavier. The hosts were afforded a huge let-off in the 19th minute, when the hosts' defensive shortcomings were laid painfully bare.

They had already made a hash of dealing with James Milner's inswinging cross, with Clichy booting off the line, when the loose ball fell to Ashley Young. The England U-21 international nipped in ahead of Theo Walcott, whose despairing lunge caught Young on the heels.

Mike Riley duly pointed to the spot but Arsenal's luck was in. Gareth Barry, Villa's regular penalty taker, had been injured by Fabregas in the build-up, so Young assumed responsibility. His spot-kick was weak, Almunia leaping to his right to parry before William Gallas prevented Young redeeming himself on the rebound.

That should have served to awaken Arsenal from their stupor, but still Villa dominated. Only their finishing let them down: in the 36th minute, a scampering run from Agbonlahor ended with the winger cutting the ball back to Barry, who shot straight at Almunia with the goal gaping.

It is not unusual for Arsenal to need the interval to clear their heads. On Saturday, though, Villa simply refused to loosen their grip on the game.

The speed and skill of Milner, Young and Agbonlahor continued to stretch the Gunners and in the 70th minute, they scored the goal they deserved. Young curled in an inviting cross and Clichy, in his desperation to block off Agbonlahor's run, headed past a startled Almunia to put Villa ahead.

Then, after Emmanuel Adebayor, belatedly introduced from the bench, had clipped the outside of the goal frame, the visitors sealed victory in the 70th minute when Agbonlahor surged past Gallas and volleyed home.