Trezeguet lifts Villa out of bot­tom three to set up nerve-shred­ding fi­nale

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Premier League - By John Percy at Villa Park

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).

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