Bent leaves Gunners limping towards finish line
Aston Villa 2
It was described as a lap of appreciation, but it was more like a walk of shame around a near deserted Emirates Stadium as Arsenal finished their home programme with another embarrassing result that could leave them having to qualify for the Champions League.
Having conceded two goals in the opening 15 minutes to the rampant Darren Bent, Arsenal were left in tatters, and could drop to fourth place in the Premier League tomorrow night. Indeed, if Manchester City win against Stoke they go third and will be a point clear going into the final game. Both are away, City at Bolton and Arsenal at Fulham, and that leaves Arsene Wenger's side knowing they may have to play two qualifiers early in the 2011-12 campaign for the right to reach the group stages.
"It's very disappointing," Wenger admitted, "because we were caught by a very bad start. We dropped three points that could cost us automatic qualification for the Champions League."
Of the possibility of having two games against potentially difficult opposition, Wenger added: "It will be a big setback, but we will adapt our preparation to it." Of the 'lap of appreciation' in front of as few as 15,000 patient fans, the Frenchman insisted: "It was not embarrassing, it was our job to thank the fans and you never have to be embarrassed when you do your job.
"It was not through glory, but no matter what kind of result happened you have to respect your fans for turning up all season."
Arsenal were missing key players including captain Cesc Fabregas, who has been ruled out for three to four weeks with a thigh injury, meaning he misses the trip to Fulham and Spanish international action.
But even the inclusion of Fabregas may not have prevented the reaction to a poor performance; the home supporters booed their team both at the interval and at the end and in between they responded to the controversial 6.5pc season ticket price increase for next season, singing "six per cent, you're having a laugh".
And Villa were having a chuckle early on, taking an 11th-minute lead and adding a second soon afterwards. When Stiliyan Petrov sent the ball high over the Arsenal defence, Bent was unmarked. The England striker was played onside by Sebastien Squillaci but still had to finish with accuracy, chesting the ball before volleying it into the top corner.
And when James Collins' low pass sent Ashley Young forward, the returning Thomas Vermaelen slipped and Bent claimed a quick second, the striker passing Squillaci before scoring. Arsenal could have had a 30th-minute penalty when, from Jack Wilshere's pass, Aaron Ramsey was brought down by Richard Dunne. And Robin van Persie was unfortunate when he struck a post.
At half-time, Wenger replaced Squillaci with Alex Song moving into defence and replacement Marouane Chamakh going into attack. But the change offered little improvement.
Chamakh did have the ball in the net but was harshly penalised for a push on Kyle Walker. A consolation goal arrived in the final minute, predictably from Van Persie, claiming his 20th goal in 22 games in 2011. Sadly, his team-mates have failed to maintain such consistency. (© Daily Telegraph, London)