Trezeguet lifts Villa out of bottom three to set up nerve-shredding finale
Perhaps this famous old arena will be staging Premier League football next season after all.
Aston Villa are heading for a nerve-shredding Survival Sunday at West Ham United’s London Stadium and there is still hope that boyhood fan Dean Smith could end this chaotic season as a hero.
Villa moved above the dreaded dotted line for the first time since late February with a deserved, and sorely needed, victory over Arsenal to give themselves a huge chance of avoiding the drop into the Championship.
This victory, and Watford’s hammering at the hands of Manchester City, inched Villa out of the bottom three on goal difference and the momentum appears to be with the Midlands club.
There was further proof that fortune was with the home team when Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah headed the ball against the upright 13 minutes from time.
Arsenal were desperately disappointing, three days after reaching the FA Cup final, and further underlined the task in front of manager Mikel Arteta.
With Mesut Ozil again missing from the squad, they failed to register a single shot on target against a team who have lost 21 games this season.
Peak Arsenal, maybe, and this defeat kept them in 10th place and means they will finish outside the top six for the first time in 25 years.
But what a result for Villa. Trezeguet, the £8.75 million summer signing, provided the crucial contribution with a devastating first-half finish to give Villa the impetus ahead of the final day.
Smith said at the start of the season that he had far higher aspirations than finishing in 17th place, but he would happily settle for that now.
“It’s a big boost, that’s for sure,” Smith said. “We knew we had to win to catch Watford up. Now we’ve got the season in our own hands and that’s all you can ask for.
“Watford can go and win at Arsenal so we have to make sure we win at West Ham. We needed this.
“We would have loved to have our fans getting us over the line, but you could hear enough from the non-playing staff to do that.”
Smith’s team-talk before the game kicked off was done for him, 100 miles away at Vicarage Road.
Watford’s thrashing at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s team will have provided Villa with all the inspiration they needed, with goal difference crucially swinging in their favour.
It is indeed remarkable that Villa still have a sliver of hope in their survival mission, after previously winning just one Premier League game since late January.
But they got their game plan spot on here, resisting the temptation to go gung-ho, despite the reward on offer, and never panicking throughout the 94 minutes.
After a tense opening 25 minutes without any goalscoring opportunities, Villa were toasting Trezeguet following the first drinks break.
Conor Hourihane’s corner from the left was flicked on to the edge of the penalty area by Tyrone Mings and Trezeguet met the ball on the half-volley, driving a fierce shot past Emiliano Martinez.
Arsenal were knocked out of their stride, despite dominating possession.
Arteta’s revolution has been showing tangible signs of progress, with a place in next month’s FA Cup final and an emerging generation of talent coming through.
Minutes into the game a noisy plane hovered over Villa Park with the words “Back Arteta Kroenke Out” towed behind it in a message designed to increase the pressure on the club’s American owner.
But this was a chastening evening for Arteta, and with a front three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nketiah, he would have expected more potency.
Arsenal did finally present Villa with some nervy moments in the second half, but it was Villa who should have claimed a second goal 15 minutes from time.
Keinan Davis had been introduced for the ineffectual Mbwana Samatta and was sent clear by Jack Grealish, but his shot went agonisingly wide of the bottom corner.
Then, two minutes later, came the huge escape. Villa’s defence were finally suspect and Nketiah headed Nicolas Pepe’s corner against a post. Pepe Reina, the Villa goalkeeper, grabbed the ball and kissed it.
The cheers of celebration after the final whistle were noisy, with a first home victory over Arsenal since November 1998 – but there is still work to do.
Now the focus turns to Sunday, and a monumental occasion for Smith and his players. It will be behind closed doors, and Villa’s supporters will probably be behind the sofa.
Arsenal, meanwhile, could do Villa a favour by beating Watford on Sunday and the summer appears likely to be very busy for Arteta, who was brutally honest in his post-match appraisal.
“It tells you the gap [to the top of the league] doesn’t lie,” he said. “We have to make that smaller and smaller.
“I’m not disappointed about the attitude – I know where we are in certain areas and where we need to improve more. We will get that.”
Aston Villa (4-3-3) Reina 7; Elmohamady 6 (Guilbert 25), Konsa 7, Mings 7, Targett 6; McGinn 7 (Lansbury 90+3), Luiz 7, Hourihane 6 (Nakamba 73); Trezeguet 7, Samatta 5 (Davis 72), Grealish 7. Subs Nyland (g), El Ghazi, Jota, Hause, Vassilev. Booked Luiz, Targett.
Arsenal (3-4-3) Martinez 6; Holding 7, Luiz 5 (Pepe 60), Kolasinac 6; Soares 5 (Willock 79), Ceballos 6, Torreira 5 (Xhaka 45), Saka 5 (Tierney 60); Lacazette 5, Aubameyang 5, Nketiah 5. Subs Macey (g), Bellerin, Sokratis, M-Niles, Smith. Booked Torreira, Lacazette, Kolasinac, Willock.
Referee Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).