ARSENAL’S title hopes suffered a major blow as the Gunners lost ground on their league rivals and lost Thomas Vermaelen to a suspected broken leg.
Belgium defender Vermaelen has been one of Arsenal’s stars of the campaign but is likely to miss the rest of the season if X-rays today confirm fears he has fractured his fibula.
Striker Eduardo also limped off with an apparent hamstring injury, denying the visitors a much-needed cutting edge.
Captain Cesc Fabregas and midfielder Tomas Rosicky both hit the woodwork, but it was not the start to a crucial run of games that manager Arsene Wenger had sought.
“We wanted three points, we got one,” Wenger said. “Maybe we dropped two. We don’t usually miss the chances we missed tonight.”
The draw leaves Arsenal third, two points behind Chelsea who have a game in hand, while Aston Villa stay seventh.
Fabregas went closest to scoring, capping a fine run in first-half stoppage time with a low shot that bounced back off the far post.
Villa winger Downing ought to have scored at the other end when a deflected cross found him at the far post, but he somehow headed wide. Rosicky then hit the underside of the bar after a run by Andrey Arshavin.
Vermaelen’s injury prompted an impressive cameo from veteran Sol Campbell, but Wenger will surely be tempted to buy reinforcement before Monday’s transfer deadline.