Match report: Arsenal 1-2 Villa
Darren Bent maintained his habit of scoring against his boyhood favourites with a quickfire double to give Villa a memorable victory at the Emirates Stadium.
The club's record signing, a regular marksman against Arsenal over the past couple of seasons, produced two clinical finishes inside the first 15 minutes.
And even though Robin Van Persie reduced the deficit in the 89th minute, Villa held on for their first win under caretaker manager Gary McAllister.
The result banished any lingering doubt about Villa's continued residence in the Barclays Premier League - and it was a performance which made you wonder why they had not spent the season challenging for European football rather than looking anxiously over their shoulders.
Even before he opened the scoring Bent had illustrated he can also be a provider, setting up Fabian Delph for a chipped shot which, unfortunately, was well of target.
But there was no such problem when Kyle Walker delivered a high ball into the penalty area in the 11th minute.
Bent calmly controlled with his chest before delicately lobbing over keeper Wojciech Szczesny's outstretched arms from six yards.
The large contingent of travelling fans were still savouring that exquisite piece of football when Bent produced another four minutes later.
This time the move started deep in the visitors half as James Collins played the ball forward to Ashley Young, who turned smartly and slotted it through the heart of the Gunners' defence.
The sheer speed of the move enabled Bent to stay onside in space, and he once again came up with a cool execution, stroking a 10-yard low shot past the stranded Szczensy.
Buoyed by that double boost, Villa began to knock the ball around with supreme confidence, and 24 minutes had elapsed before the Londoners produced their first real threat, Theo Walcott drifting a right-wing centre across the face of goal following Alex Song's fine pass.
There was relief for the visitors five minutes later, though, Richard Dunne appearing to bring down Aaron Ramsey as the midfielder prepared to shoot.
Despite strong appeals from home players, though, referee Michael Oliver ruled that the challenge was fair.
If that one was debatable, there was no argument when Dunne again made a timely intervention to ensure that Van Persie's fierce shot diverted for a corner after the Dutch striker had sprinted menacingly through the left channel.
Van Persie was also unlucky to see his low, angled shot come back off the far post after he had worked a good position, while defender Thomas Vermaelen sent a header over the bar.
But a couple of minutes into the second half, Bent had the chance to add a third. A slip by Song enabled him to get clear of the home defence, but his low shot from the edge of the penalty area was comfortably saved by Szczesny.
Jolted by the fact they might have gone three down, Arsenal stepped up a gear to put Villa under increasing pressure.
Brad Friedel made some excellent saves, holding Andrey Arshavin's fierce shot from the edge of the area before spreading himself to deflect Kieran Gibbs' close-range effort over when a goal looked certain.
Then, after Walcott had shot wide and Marouane Chamakh had seen a header disallowed, the American did well to hold a powerful shot from the Gunners' substitute.
While Arsenal were now undeniably the dominant force, Villa might easily have increased their lead in a 73rd-minute breakaway.
Young's swerving 20-yard drive was too hot for Szczesny to hold, although the keeper did well to save Stewart Downing's follow-up shot.
That was a rare moment of second half Villa danger, though, and in the 89th minute Arsenal's pressure was rewarded when Van Persie nudged the ball past Friedel from six yards.