Bent stars as Arsenal throw in the towel

ARSENAL suffered a humiliation yesterday after defeat to Aston Villa in their final home game of the season, with supporters jeering the team during a lap appreciation after the final whistle.

Arsene Wenger’s team had been defeated by Darren Bent’s two goals, then Robin van Persie’s strike came too late to make a difference at the Emirates Stadium.

Their terrible day got worse when it was revealed Cesc Fabregas has suffered a setback in his recovery from a thigh injury and will not play again this season.

The Arsenal skipper was ruled out against Villa but joined his team-mates for their lap of dishonour following another season without a trophy and an end-of-season slump. Fans may be upset but they will hope it was not the last they will see of Fabregas.

Wenger, who may also be without Samir Nasri when Arsenal complete their season with a trip to Fulham next Sunday, must be wishing the season is already over, yet they are still embroiled in a fight to keep third place.

Defeat to Villa has leaves Manchester City in pole position to finish third, which would mean avoiding a tricky Champions League qualifier and breezing straight into the group stages.

“We dropped three points that could cost us automatic qualification for the Champions League and were punished because we went in too tentative and not dominant in anything we did,” Wenger said. “It will be a big setback to finish fourth but we will adapt our preparations to it.”

Wenger had welcomed back Thomas Vermaelen for his first appearance since September following an Achilles injury but his presence in the Arsenal defence could not stop Villa in the early stages.

The opening goal came after 11 minutes from a ball over the top of the defence by England full-back Kyle Walker, with Bent spinning away from Sebastien Squillaci.

Bent still had work to do but executed his finish in spectacular fashion, controlling the ball on the chest and steering a volley beyond Wojciech Szczesny and into the top corner.

The lead was doubled four minutes later when Bent scored his ninth goal since arriving at Villa from Sunderland during the January transfer window.

James Collins played a free-kick forward and Vermaelen slipped to allow Ashley Young time to slide his pass through the Arsenal defence. Bent had raced in front of Bacary Sagna and finished through Szczesny’s legs.

Arsenal looked for a way back into the game and felt they should have had a penalty when Richard Dunne challenged Aaron Ramsey in the penalty area as the Wales midfielder was pulling the trigger to shoot.

“I didn’t think it was a penalty. I got myself between the ball and him and took the ball,” said Dunne. “We were two-up by that stage so they were shouting for everything.”

Wenger’s response at half-time was to take off Squillaci, who had endured a terrible opening 45 minutes.

“I was in a position where we had to gamble,” Wenger said.

“We gave cheap goals away. The central defenders were two players with experience and normally it should work, Thomas Vermaelen looked stronger and stronger as the game went on and he has not played since September so it’s a lot to ask to be dominant like before.”

Marouane Chamakh, Squillaci’s replacement, had a goal ruled out for a push on Walker, then Van Persie tapped home from close range with a minute remaining.

“We battled back but were a bit unlucky,” Wenger said. “I felt we had a penalty and I have not seen many goals cancelled away from home like Chamakh‘s.”

Fans had already voiced their disapproval at the interval and during the second half when they chanted in protest at rises in season-ticket prices. “Six per cent, you’re having a laugh,” they sang.

Many had left before the final whistle but some of those who stayed jeered as Arsenal players did their circuit of the pitch.

“It was not embarrassing, it was our job to thank the fans and you never have to be embarrassed when you do your job,” said Wenger.

“It was not a tour of glory but no matter what kind of result happened you have to respect your fans for turning up all season. It’s not a ego trip, it’s a respect trip.

“I feel very fortunate I’ve played 15 years with full stands so when people are not happy they can show it.”


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