Villa had no reason to feel aggrieved, however. Two up after 63 minutes, they had the three points that could have taken them to the top of the Premiership in the bag . Then Arsenal's caretaker manager Stewart Houston broke the habit of a Highbury lifetime by replacing a defender, Steve Morrow, with a striker, John Hartson, and within seven minutes, Villa's lead had been reduced.
Under pressure from three attackers, Villa's defence developed a bad case of the jitters manifesting itself in a shocking Ugo Ehiogu back- pass that keeper Michael Oakes risked life and limb to retrieve.
Both sides had started cautiously, approaching the opposition with possibly too much respect and it produced nothing better than dull football until the 38th mintue. Southgate swept forward to feed Mark Draper whose neat chip left Savo Milosevic with only John Lukic to beat. The Serb waltzed round the keeper and drove the ball home.
Just before the goal, Arsenal felt aggrieved when Merson planted his header on to the underside of the Villa crossbar and, they claimed, over the line. But the referee did not agree - and there was no rushing linesman to consult.
When Lukic parried Dwight Yorke's shot to the lurking Milosevic in the 63rd minute and Villa went two up it looked all over. For a spell there was only one team in it as Andy Townsend assisted Draper in taking the midfield by the scruff of the neck for the first time in the game. Both gave Lukic opportunities to restore his credibility, forcing good saves with powerful volleys from outside the box.
Suddenly the ground shifted under Villa. Dennis Bergkamp's 70th-minute volley was deflected wide of Oakes' left-hand post where Merson was ready and able to lob his header over the goalkeeper. The colour was back in Arsenal's cheeks with a vengeance. Glenn Helder, who replaced Bergkamp with 10 minutes left, hit the woodwork before, two minutes into injury time, Arsenal forced another corner. Merson's kick was flicked on by Martin Keown to Linighan, who headed in off the post. Now the fat lady could sing.