Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 1: Toure costs us two points

Last updated : 17 April 2003 By Footymad Previewer

Arsenal's chances of winning back to back Premiership titles suffered a temporary setback with their failure to beat a Villa side which had been in danger of being sucked into the relegation dog-fight.

Freddie Ljungberg gave Arsenal a 56th minute lead to lift the Gunners who had struggled to dominate the Midlands club but in the 70th minute Villa equalised with an own goal from Kolo Toure.

Arsenal, lacking Robert Pires, David Seaman, Martin Keown and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, were not as impressive as usual.

The 75th meeting between the two clubs at Villa Park was far from a classic although Villa deserved a share of the spoils.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, lifted Villa's hopes in the second half when he narrowly missed grabbing an equaliser with a powerful drive.

But the German's effort lifted Villa's hopes and they were rewarded when a shot from substitute Marcus Allback was turned into his own net by Toure in the 70th minute.

Villa, who had only won two of their previous 13 games against Arsenal, deserved this valuable point for a battling display.

Arsene Wenger's pre-match fears that Arsenal might well suffer a repeat of the form they displayed after the last double-header international break in October when they lost four matches on the bounce, did not materialise on this occasion although it was not a five star performance.

The early feature was the skill of Arsenal's skipper, Patrick Vieira. He orchestrated the play from the back with Dennis Bergkamp also posing a major threat to Villa's defence.

England's goalscoring hero, Darius Vassell, in sharp contrast could make little headway against Pascal Cygan and generally Arsenal coped quite easily with Villa's front line.

The first real danger came when Gareth Barry, operating in a defensive role on this occasion, broke down the left, cut in and fired a powerful shot just over the bar.

Minutes later Ulises de la Cruz intercepted a cross field pass from Sol Campbell to race clear and create an opening for Moustapha Hadji to fire wide from close range.

Thierry Henry was strangely subdued in the first half and this was due in the main to the commanding performance of Villa's skipper, Olof Mellberg, who has had an outstanding season for the Midlands club.

The Gunners attempted to step up the pace in the second half with a revived Henry beginning to make an impact as he demonstrated with a low cross which found Ljungberg but the Swede hooked his shot wide.

Ljungberg, however, made amends in fine style as Arsenal launched a series of attacks which ended with Gilberto Silva's shot being blocked by the recalled Peter Enckelman.

Ljungberg made no mistake on this occasion to give Arsenal the lead in the 56th minute when he hooked the ball into an empty net.

But Villa staged a fine comeback inspired by a blockbusting effort from Hitzlsperger.

Minutes later a right-wing corner from Lee Hendrie found Allback on the far post. His effort was going well wide but Toure slammed his intended clearance into the back of the net for the equaliser.