It had been a good week for Arsène Wenger's team, through to the knockout stages of the Champions League on the back of a thumping scoreline in the north London derby, but this was performance and a result to offer some perspective to the talk of a title challenge.
It drew comment from some of the Arsenal supporters who had made the trek north on a miserable night. They reacted unfavourably to some of Wenger's substitutions, particularly after Olivier Giroud, a striker in a run of form, had given way to Francis Coquelin in a clear defensive change. There seemed to be some disappointment, too, that Jack Wilshere was not involved at all. "You don't know what you're doing," they chanted.
Afterwards, Wenger did not feel the need to explain himself, apart from saying that he did not think it wise to risk Wilshere, on the bench after his midweek comeback against Montpellier on what was clearly a slippery surface.
"It is more dangerous to bring him on in weather like that when he is tired and it was sensible not to play him," Wenger said.
"But I will not explain every decision I make. I do my best every day and I know why I make decisions. I give my best and I let others judge. I have managed for 30 years at the top level."
In Arsenal's mitigation, they were ending a demanding week by facing a determined opponent playing a high-energy game. "Physically we were a bit jaded," Wenger said. "Although we had chances we lacked accuracy in our final balls. You have to give Aston Villa respect for the fight they put up and it could have gone either way."
It should be noted, though, that this is a Villa side full of youthful ambition but severely short on experience. Only once has the club endured a start to a Premier League season as poor as this one and Paul Lambert's side came into this match having lost to both Manchester clubs in successive weeks.
Had Villa ended the night celebrating only their second win in their last 11 home Premier League games it would have been neither surprising nor undeserved.
Ashley Westwood and Barry Bannan worked hard in central midfield, with Andreas Weimann's pace testing Carl Jenkinson on the right of Arsenal's defence, and the physical power of Christian Benteke subjecting Per Mertesacker to a battle in the middle. Whether Villa would have edge it if Lambert had chosen to recall Darren Bent, fit again after an ankle injury, was a matter for speculation on which Lambert himself would not comment.
Arsenal found it hard to gain a foothold until almost 30 minutes in, when Aaron Ramsey's deflected shot brought a good save from Brad Guzan. For their part, Villa had the ball in the net after 38 minutes. Szczesny conceded a free-kick by sliding out of the penalty area with the ball still in his hands, Ciaran Clark drove the ball towards the Arsenal goal from just inside the box after Bannan supplied the set-piece from the left. Szczesny could only parry the shot and Weimann pounced, only for the flag to be raised for offside.
Laurent Koscielny missed an opportunity for Arsenal just before half-time and Santi Cazorla went close at the start of the second half, but Villa's purpose did not waver, for which they deserved credit, especially after an injury to Ron Vlaar, the skipper, forced them to reorganise at the back with 40 minutes remaining.
Matthew Lowton moved across from full-back to begin what would always be an unequal contest against the much taller Giroud and Arsenal did for a while look as if they could take control.
But ultimately it was Szczesny who kept them in it, getting down well to save from Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor and vitally deflecting a fine effort from Brett Holman, an influential Villa substitute, on to the bar with his finger tips.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar (Lichaj, 51), Clark, Stevens; Westwood, El Ahmadi (Holman, 63), Bannon, Weimann (Albrighton, 90); Benteke, Agbonlahor.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arshavin, 77), Cazorla, Podolski (Gervinho, 69); Giroud (Coquelin, 86).
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Bannan (Aston Villa)
Match rating: 7/10
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