Aston Villa‘s players must prepare for a “cup final” after showing “courage” to secure a priceless 1-0 win over Arsenal and move out of the Premier League relegation zone with one game to go, says boss Dean Smith.
Trezeguet beat Emiliano Martinez with a powerful first-time finish after Tyrone Mings had diverted a corner into the Egypt international’s path to lift Villa out of the bottom three for the first time since 28 February.
Villa moved above managerless Watford, who had started the day 17th before a heavy 4-0 home defeat by Manchester City, on goal difference.
The Midlanders’ second win in three games sets up a dramatic final day at the bottom of the table on Sunday, which Villa will begin level on points with Watford and three points ahead of Bournemouth – with two of those three teams likely to go down.
Meanwhile, 16th-placed West Ham, who also play on Wednesday, still require one point to secure safety, although their goal difference ought to keep them up.
Villa’s last game is away to West Ham and if they win – providing Watford do not win by a margin two or more goals greater than they do – Smith’s men will secure another season in the top flight, having spent much of it in the bottom three.
“We had seen Watford play earlier and get beat. We knew we had to get a win to even catch them up,” Smith told BBC Sport. “By getting the win it puts our fate in our own hands.
“There was a lot of character and a lot of courage from the players. It was a massive performance and I am proud of the players for that but now we have to recover and get ready for our cup final.
“We’re working hard to maintain our status and the last three results have shown that.”
A 10th league defeat means Arsenal, playing in their first match since reaching the FA Cup final, will finish outside the top six for the first time in 25 years.
They can come no higher than eighth after a disappointing performance by Mikel Arteta’s side, Eddie Nketiah going closest to equalising with a header which hit the post.
However, the Gunners will still have a big say in the relegation battle when they host Villa’s rivals Watford on Sunday.
During the match, a banner reading “Back Arteta Kroenke Out’ was towed by an aeroplane over Villa Park in reference to Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke.
Villa’s fate back in their own hands
After Watford’s 2-1 win over Newcastle on 11 July, Villa looked down and out – seven points from safety with four games to go.
But Smith’s side have reacted magnificently in the closing stages of the season, beating Crystal Palace, drawing at Everton before overcoming Arsenal with a gritty display oozing in character to give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.
Watford’s defeat earlier on Tuesday opened the door for Villa to climb out of the relegation zone for the first time in five months, despite being forced to reshuffle their defence in the first half after Ahmed Elmohamady was forced off with an injury.
Smith’s side have scored six goals since the restart with Trezeguet netting half of them, his latest an instinctive finish which beat Martinez for pace and power.
Villa were forced to endure some nervous moments, particularly towards the end after substitute Keinan Davis wasted a glorious chance to double the lead after firing wide.
Smith reacted to the final whistle by clenching his fist – with Villa’s fate back in their own hands.
They will be safe if they win (presuming Watford do not win by two more goals than they do), or draw providing the Hornets do not win. But defeat would send Villa down if Watford avoid defeat or if Bournemouth win at Everton.
Gunners take a step backwards
This felt like a big step backwards for Arsenal after a positive spell in which they collected 13 points from six games.
Having followed up victory over runaway champions Liverpool by beating Manchester City to seal a first FA Cup final visit since 2017, the Gunners did not force Villa keeper Pepe Reina into a serious save.
It was the first time Villa had not faced any shots on target in a Premier League game since January 2016.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s stream of goals have been a highlight of his side’s season, but the Gabon forward was frustrated at Villa Park and his future remains a hot topic of conversation among supporters.
“The quicker we do it the better because the player will be more focused, more determined and more calm,” said Arteta on the eve of this game when asked if Aubameyang, whose current deal expires next summer, will sign a new contract.
It was Nketiah who went closest to scoring for the visitors, the England Under-21 forward heading against the post after connecting with a corner.
The Gunners can still qualify for Europe but they will now have to win the FA Cup to play in next season’s Europa League.
“I don’t think the league table lies at all,” conceded Arteta. “You can see the gap and the difference in points with the other teams. It’s where we are. That’s the reality.”