In the absence for the first time of Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal could derive more satisfaction from the draw than Villa. Indeed, having gone ahead in the second half through David Platt, back on the ground where he made his name, they will have rued the way Dwight Yorke, with an outstanding piece of skill, equalised for Villa almost immediately.
For all that Villa created more chances, this was a day on which the form book always seemed destined to have the final say. Villa thus remain fourth with 28 points from 16 matches, Arsenal third with 29 from 16. But with Newcastle now well clear of them with 38 from 15, can either side still harbour any genuine title aspirations? Arsenal must remain in with a shout, assuming Bergkamp can get over his calf strain quickly. But for Villa, a place in the Uefa Cup is probably all they can hope for.
For Brian Little, the Villa manager, it is very much a case of one step at a time. "We're definitely better than when they beat us here 4-0 at the end of last season," he said. And to have come back from a goal down against a team with Arsenal's defensive reputation was particularly pleasing for him. "That was almost like winning," Little said. "We were determined to get something out of the game," Bruce Rioch, Little's opposite number, said. "We were disappointed not to win." He agreed Arsenal had missed Bergkamp. "He links the team. We haven't got anyone else who can do that."
In these circumstances, and with Terry Venables up in the stands, the stage was set for Platt to try to show the form that has eluded him for most of the season. To begin with, he and John Jensen kept a grip on midfield, where Villa were looking to Mark Draper, an aspiring England international himself, to open up the opposition. His attempts to do so kept falling foul of Arsenal's offside trap, and when Ian Wright hit the bar in the 18th minute with what he had intended to be a cross, it looked as if Villa might struggle.
Gradually Villa built up a head of steam. Gary Charles sent a header wide, Savo Milosevic and Tommy Johnson tested David Seaman, and just before half-time Alan Wright hit the bar from a distance. But Arsenal tightened up at the back, and in the 60th minute they struck when Platt, in trademark fashion, made a perceptive run to get goalside of Paul McGrath and head in Paul Merson's free-kick.
Within five minutes, however, Villa were level when Yorke glanced an exquisite header beyond Seaman from Alan Wright's cross for his ninth goal of the season. They were then nearly handed a winner when Steve Morrow, on as a substitute, miscued a clearance and saw it graze the bar, but that would have been hard on Arsenal. So too might have been the booking for Ian Wright in the 90th minute when the referee felt he had dived. Rioch is hopeful that video evidence will clear Wright's name.