Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2: Adebayor rises to occasion as Gunners go five clear at top

Striker's superb header sees off battling Villa and gives Arsenal handy lead in title race

There is hope for English football if not the national team. "Have you ever seen England play like this?" Arsenal supporters sang as their team produced a majestic first 45 minutes of passing and movement, even allowing Aston Villa the first goal before easing their way into the lead. With Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie both missing, it was the most emphatic reaction to the midweek defeat in Seville that ended a club record of 28 unbeaten matches.

But there is more to football than sweet passing and in the second half Martin O'Neill's motivational powers were evident as the home side, feeding Ashley Young on the left at every opportunity, tested Arsenal's resolution. The crossbar was eventually required to help Arsne Wenger's side extend their lead at the top of the table, which could be further increased whatever Manchester United do tomorrow, when they finally play their game in hand away to Newcastle on Wednesday.

As ever, Wenger had the words for it: "Brilliant and resilient," he said. "We saw the two sides of us today. In the first half we played absolutely amazing football. No one can live with us when we play like that."

The home side's run of four successive victories had propelled them into sixth place prior to kick-off, their highest placing of the season. Outplayed at home by Liverpool and Manchester United but winners over Chelsea, they welcomed the last of the big four to Villa Park without the suspended Nigel Reo-Coker and with a certain trepidation, which proved well founded. Reo-Coker's replacement Stiliyan Petrov would last only half an hour and in that time his difficulty was an obligation to keep an eye on the outstanding Alexander Hleb, who had a floating role on his return to the side, just behind the one Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor. That tended to leave Villa outnumbered in a crucial area.

Scott Carson, slowly rehabilitating after his Wembley nightmare, had to make an early save from Adebayor, and neither Petrov nor any of the back four were close enough to Hleb when Mathieu Flamini's pass played him through the middle, the goalkeeper saving resourcefully with his feet.

It was a surprise when Villa suddenly managed a bad miss and a goal in the space of two minutes, both by the same player. Craig Gardner was initially the Villain turned villain, miscuing horribly as Kolo Tour cleared straight to him. In the next attack, Young sent John Carew away down the left for a deflected cross that fell perfectly for Gardner to sweep in.

The visitors' silky smooth passing soon brought them back into the game and then into the lead. Midway through the half, Emmanuel Ebou played a one-two with Adebayor on the right and crossed from the byline for Flamini to drive in a strong shot from 18 yards. The goalscorer hit two more fierce efforts before Adebayor leapt above two defenders to head in Bacary Sagna's cross at the culmination of another sparkling move.

The only danger after such an apparently effortless recovery was that a casual air would creep in, though Wenger preferred to praise Villa's commitment. Manuel Almunia came under some pressure and just after the hour Carew headed one of Young's inswinging centres against the crossbar. Less admirable was Carew's lunge from behind at Hleb that caused the Belarussian, who had rivalled Flamini as the game's outstanding performer, to be replaced by Theo Walcott. Most of Villa's challenges were more legitimate and as they thudded into them all over the pitch a genuine contest had broken out again.

Arsenal's next substitution was a more defensive one, Tomas Rosicky making way for Gilberto Silva to shore up the central area. But Carew's back-header over the bar was as close as Villa came to completing a fightback that had seemed inconceivable at half-time.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot