Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2
Barclays Premier League leaders Arsenal gave Aston Villa a first-half masterclass in how to pass and move with the ball; in the end, it was Martin O'Neill's side who were the teachers with an incredible fightback which came up just short.
Two first-half goals for Arsenal and one from Villa's Craig Gardner enthralled the 42,000-strong crowd but it was the home side who could and should have stolen at least a point over 90 minutes.
Villa had gone into the match in front of a sell-out Villa Park crowd on the back of four successive victories. But even that statistic paled into insignificance when compared to Arsenal's 28 matches without defeat, which only ended in midweek at the hands of Sevilla in the Champions League.
Villa were without the suspended Nigel Reo-Coker and the Gunners without Cesc Fabregas, but Arsène Wenger's men are certainly not short of quality with a squad list which far exceeded Villa's.
And inside just four minutes, they showed just why they lead the league so far this season, with Emmanuel Eboue forcing a save from Scott Carson.
There were further chances at both ends as Villa looked to end a nine-year wait for a victory at home over Arsenal, but it was the home side who broke the deadlock.
John Carew won the ball wide out and fired it across the face of the Arsenal goal. The ball clipped Kolo Toure's leg, deflected off the head of William Gallas and fell perfectly for Gardner to fire it home.
Confidence is high among the Villa players at the moment and to be a goal up perhaps caused a few to get carried away. So it was inevitable that Arsenal popped up with a reminder of why they are the country's top side.
Spurred back to life, the Gunners began to take over the game. Tomas Rosicky gave Villa a lesson on how to beat defenders and then Alexander Hleb and Emmanuel Adebayor began to link up with some sublime one-twos to rip open the hosts.
Their spell of dominance paid off after 23 minutes when Matthieu Flamini pulled his side level. Eboue did well to link with Adebayor before driving the ball across the face of Carson's goal. Hleb stretched for it but it broke free on the edge of the box for Flamini to fire home into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Villa were soon under the cosh again with Martin Laursen forced to block Flamini as Arsenal tried to sneak a second and their cause was not helped when the resurgent Stiliyan Petrov was forced to limp off with a hamstring problem, to be replaced by Shaun Maloney.
Nine minutes before the break, Arsenal's brilliance once again paid off as Hleb and Bakari Sagna linked well to work their way past Gareth Barry. Sagna spotted Adebayor in space and his shot proved too powerful for Carson, giving Arsenal the lead.
Twelve months ago, Villa would have capitulated at this point but Martin O'Neill's half-time pep talk obviously did enough to motivate the team for, in the second half, it was Villa who came out blazing.
Laursen had two early efforts repelled ,before Carew came closest to getting his side on level terms. The latest in a string of impressive crosses from Ashley Young found him unmarked and the Norwegian international's header beat Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, but came back off the underside of the bar.
Agonbonlahor then headed just wide from another Young free-kick won after Carew was bundled over in the corner and thenMaloney saw another effort gathered by a scrambling Almunia.
Lassana Diarra then squandered Arsenal's only real clear-cut chance of the second half, blasting his shot high into the North Stand.
Villa seemed to think they could still grab a share of the spoils but substitute Patrik Berger's shot had insufficient power to beat Almunia and in time added on, Maloney was once again left frustrated when the Spanish goalkeeper was able to gather his last-gasp effort.
Scorers: Gardner (14) 1-0, Flamini (23) 1-1, Adebayor (36) 1-2.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson, Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma, (Berger, 76) Gardner, Petrov, (Maloney, 29) Barry, Young, Agbonlahor, Carew. Subs: Taylor, Harewood, Davies.
ARSENAL (4-4-1-1): Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Diarra, Eboue, Flamini, Clichy, Rosicky (Gilberto, 74) Hleb (Walcott, 59) Adebayor (Bendtner, 90). Subs: Lehmann, Senderos.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).
Bookings: Villa — Bouma (foul), Carew (foul) Young (diving); Arsenal — Adebayor (foul), Gallas (dissent).
Villa man of the match: John Carew — made his presence felt and was unlucky not to give Villa share of the spoils with header off the bar.