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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Arsenal 3-1 Aston Villa

Arsenal are just one game from extending their remarkable unbeaten run in the Premiership to a half century of matches after beating Aston Villa.

But they had to come from behind after Lee Hendrie's stunning drive from outside the area opened the scoring.

Robert Pires levelled from the penalty spot after Thierry Henry was fouled.

Superb goalkeeping from Stefan Postma kept the score level but Henry struck before the break and Pires sealed the win with a smart, low shot.

Arsenal's finishing needed to be sublime to beat Postma, whose excellent performance as stand-in for the injured Thomas Sorensen, had repelled wave after wave of Arsenal attacks.

Postma had been beaten in the opening minutes, but Sol Campbell's thunderous header crashed against the bar.

The visitors' relief at their reprieve turned to delight just seconds later as Hendrie supplied the perfect finish to Villa's first attack.

Following determined work by Carlton Cole, Hendrie nonchalantly dispatched the loose ball on the edge of the area, leaving Jens Lehmann no chance.

Arsenal's unbeaten run could have been further threatened but substitute Peter Whittingham, who replaced an injured Gareth Barry after six minutes, curled his shot narrowly wide.

However, Villa were soon rudely awoken from their dream start as Arsenal launched an unrelenting assault on their goal.

But a combination of the Gunners' profligate finishing and magnificent goalkeeping kept David O'Leary's side ahead.

Postma proved equal to the task as he denied Reyes, repeatedly throughout the match, Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas and Patrick Vieira.

Inevitably, the pressure led to a Arsenal equaliser when Mark Delaney became the latest player to find Henry too pacy and was forced into the foul.

After Pires had scored from the resultant spot-kick, Arsenal continued to carve through the Villa defence but it took until the stroke of half-time before they scored again.

Once Henry had put the Premiership leaders ahead with a right-footed effort after he had been put through by Reyes' defence-splitting pass, the win never looked in doubt.

With Villa completely over-run after the interval, it was left to Postma to provide almost single-handed resistance and he performed miracles.

But even he ran out of heroics when left exposed and facing Pires, who had collected the ball unmarked in the box following a neat flick from Henry.

The midfielder curled a right-footed shot low into the corner to give the scoreline a fairer reflection of Arsenal's superiority.

One could feel sympathy for Postma, who surely could have done no more to earn his side something from a contest in which they were outclassed.


Arsenal: Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole, Pires (Van Persie 84), Vieira (Flamini 66), Fabregas, Reyes (Pennant 76), Bergkamp, Henry.
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Cygan.

Booked: Cole, Fabregas.

Goals: Pires 19 pen, Henry 45, Pires 72.

Aston Villa: Postma, Delaney, Mellberg, De la Cruz, Samuel, McCann, Hendrie, Hitzlsperger (Davis 45), Barry (Whittingham 8), Cole (Angel 58), Vassell.
Subs Not Used: Solano, Henderson.

Booked: Cole, Mellberg, Samuel, Hendrie.

Goals: Hendrie 3.

Att: 38,137

Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).




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