Goalscorers: Paul Merson 21, Steve Stone 34, Sylvain Wiltord 46, Thierry Henry 72, 90
Arsenal: Stuart Taylor, Lauren, Sol Campbell, Matthew Upson (Martin Keown 45), Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour, Freddie Ljungberg (Sylvain Wiltord 45), Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp (Kanu 68), Thierry Henry
Aston Villa: Peter Enckelman, Alan Wright, Olof Mellberg, Jlloyd Samuel, Steve Staunton, Gareth Barry (Darius Vassell 78), George Boateng, Lee Hendrie, Paul Merson, Steve Stone, Dion Dublin
Referee: Alan Wiley, Attendance: 38,074
With Manchester United having already lost six times in the 2001-2002 Premier League campaign by early December, the race for the title was wide open. Arsenal were one of the main contenders whilst Aston Villa had topped the table in late October, although they had slipped off the pace in recent weeks.
The sides met at Highbury and produced a contest which was a game of two halves. In the opening 45 minutes, the Villans put in a clinical, decisive counter-attacking display which meant they went into the dressing rooms 2-0 ahead at half-time. After 21 minutes, they took the lead through a former Arsenal title winner.
Peter Enckelman’s long goal-kick was flicked on by Dion Dublin who had the measure of Sol Campbell. Campbell’s centre-back partner Matthew Upson was caught out of position and Paul Merson held him off before chipping the onrushing Stuart Taylor to give John Gregory’s side a deserved lead.
11 minutes before half-time, their lead had been doubled. Veteran Steve Staunton launched a deep free-kick into the penalty box and it caused plenty of confusion in the Arsenal backline. Lauren and Freddie Ljungberg failed to clear their lines, allowing Alan Wright to drive the ball back into the danger zone. Campbell produced a vital block to deny Lee Hendrie but the ball fell neatly into the path of Steve Stone and the midfielder took the opportunity with panache. Arsene Wenger needed to make some tactical adjustments to change the course of the match.
The struggling Upson was replaced by Martin Keown at half-time and Sylvain Wiltord was introduced for Ljungberg. Just a minute after his half-time introduction, Wiltord had halved Villa’s advantage with virtually his first touch of the contest. From Ray Parlour’s cross, a deflection off a Villa defender allowed the Frenchman to score with a left-footed volley.
Arsenal were now bossing proceedings and as the second half wore on, Villa started to drop deeper and deeper. With 18 minutes left, the equaliser arrived. Jlloyd Samuel was robbed of possession by Patrick Vieira and Vieira picked out Thierry Henry who kept his composure to equalise.
The pressure continued and Wiltord was denied a second goal by an offside flag but as stoppage-time approached, the winning goal finally arrived for the Gunners. Enckelman’s sloppy goal-kick gave the hosts one final opportunity. Robert Pires was stronger in a 50:50 challenge against a tentative George Boateng and he played Henry through. He made no mistake and scored his 21st goal of the season in all competitions to complete the stirring second half comeback.
The result took Arsenal into second place in the table and they eventually ended up winning the title by seven points – losing just one more Premier League match between this game and the end of the campaign. Gregory left Aston Villa six weeks later and they faded away to eighth in the final table.