Arsenal crush Villa to hit the front

Arsene Wenger's men, still smarting from their 3-2 defeat to North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and a 2-0 Champions League loss to Braga in midweek, eased a point clear of champions Chelsea who are at Newcastle United on Sunday.

Manchester United are level on 28 points with Chelsea and can leapfrog Arsenal later on Saturday. Arsenal missed a fistful of chances at a freezing Villa Park while youngster Ciaran Clark scored twice for the home side in the second half to turn what should have been a comfortable afternoon for the Gunners into a nervy final 20 minutes.

The first half was all Arsenal, with Villa flattered to stay on level terms for 39 minutes before a defensive howler allowed Andrei Arshavin to scamper into the box and beat the outstretched Brad Friedel.

Samir Nasri could have made it 2-0 a minute later after being played through and rounding Friedel only to see his tightly angled shot hit the side netting.  Friedel had to make another crucial save from a powerful Marouane Chamakh header in the 44th before Nasri finally got on the scoresheet on the stroke of halftime. The Frenchman's volleyed shot off a floating Arshavin corner took a deflection off Villa defender Luke Young with Friedel diving in vain to keep it out.

Villa's French manager Gerard Houllier took off former Arsenal midfielder and compatriot Robert Pires at half time and they were a changed side after the break.

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