Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was left to count the cost of more poor defending as boos rang around the Emirates Stadium after the Gunners’ final home game of another bitterly disappointing campaign ended in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa.
Arsenal are now in real danger of seeing FA Cup winners Manchester City, who have a match in hand and are only two points behind, overtake them in the race for automatic Champions League qualification after a third defeat in four games.
Darren Bent’s well-taken brace inside the opening 15 minutes made Arsenal pay for a sloppy start.
And while Wenger rued key decisions from referee Michael Oliver to turn down a strong first-half penalty claim and rule out a close-range header from substitute Marouane Chamakh before Robin van Persie’s consolation, the jeers at the final whistle sent a clear message.
“We gave very cheap goals away,” said Wenger, who confirmed captain Cesc Fabregas will miss the last game of the season with a thigh injury.
“We dropped three points which could cost us automatic qualification for the Champions League.”
And Wenger accepted the supporters, some of whom had staged protests on the way to the ground, had the right to voice their disapproval.
“It was not a tour of glory, but I think, no matter what happens, you have to respect your fans for turning up for the whole season,” Wenger said.
“You have to accept that [some left] and you have to thank those who are still in the stand.
“We are in a job where you have to please people and if they are not happy, we have to accept that.
“We will try to strengthen our team, of course, but the best way to keep our fans happy is to win the games.”
Arsenal never looked likely to repeat the victory over champions Manchester United here two weeks ago.
Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen made his long-awaited return from eight months out with an Achilles problem, but took time to grow into the game alongside Sebastien Squillaci, who was substituted at half-time in a tactical change.
“We have been hit very hard by bad results and you could see that at the start of the game, but we have to rise above that,” Wenger added.
“Once we were in the game we looked comfortable, but it was too late.”
Villa were in need of at least a point to mathematically secure their top-flight status and produced a display worthy of their vocal travelling support.
“There has not been a great deal to shout about, but the journey home will be sweet and we appreciate the support because it has not been a great year but they stuck by us,” assistant manager Gary McAllister said.