At 2-2, they were set to extend their winless run to five games and the momentum was swinging even further in Manchester City’s favour in this title race.
But right at the death, Arsenal snatched three points with two injury-time goals to breathe life into their title challenge.
The scenes, as first an Emi Martinez own-goal went in and then Gabriel Martinelli struck, said it all. The Arsenal bench swarmed onto the field, with substitute Granit Xhaka sprinting right the way across the pitch towards the away fans.
Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff were equally euphoric, hugging each other and jumping around.
All their composure had gone out the window and, in many ways, that summed up the chaotic nature of this 4-2 win for the Gunners that sent them back top of the Premier League - even if only for a few hours before City faced Nottingham Forest.
Arsenal’s rise to the top during the first-half of the season was characterised by the way they controlled games. This, however, was not a controlled match but instead a chaotic game that at times was more like watching basketball.
During the first-half in particular, Arsenal were not at the races and it was little surprise they trailed as sloppy defending led to them being punished.
For the first, Oleksandr Zinchenko was robbed of the ball by Matty Cash. Ollie Watkins was then played in over the top and he skipped William Saliba far too easily before firing low past Aaron Ramsdale.
Villa’s second goal saw yet more poor defending from Arsenal. The hosts were able to play it out far too comfortably from the back, eventually finishing off a move with Philippe Coutinho scoring his first goal of the season.
The positive for Arsenal is that on both occasions they hit back, first through Bukayo Saka and then Zinchenko. And you have to wonder just where Arsenal would be without Saka. During a lacklustre first-half the winger was the one shining light, almost single-handedly keeping them in the game.
If it hadn’t been for Saka, the Gunners could have been out of this match but instead, at 2-2 and with 30 minutes to go, they were right in it.
Chances came for both sides. Eddie Nketiah and Martin Odegaard squandered glorious opportunities for Arsenal. Ramsdale had to make two big saves to deny Leon Bailey and Jhon Duran.
What it means 🖤 pic.twitter.com/iwu4SAnkbu— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 18, 2023
As the minutes ticked into injury-time, it looked like Arsenal would be leaving back for London with a point. But then they were saved by two unlikely heroes. Jorginho struck an effort from outside the box and it hit the bar, before rebounding off ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez’s head and into the net.
It led to pandemonium in the away end, which became a sea of limbs. The players lost their heads too, but had to regain them as there were still minutes to play. And there was yet more drama as Arsenal added a fourth, by breaking to score from a Villa corner that had Martinez up trying to bag an equaliser.
As it was, the Gunners were the ones to find the net as Gabriel Martinelli rolled a simple finish in. A crazy end to a crazy game.