Trezeguet sinks Arsenal to haul Aston Villa out of relegation zone and boost hopes of an unlikely escape
They may have to add another regulation to the list of Covid-19 dos and don’ts after Aston Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina planted his lips on the match ball with a little less than 15 minutes to go.
It was an instinctive gesture that summed up the mood as Villa climbed out of the bottom three of the Premier League for the first time in 144 days.
Reina – superb all night – had just seen a header from Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah strike the inside of the post, bounce down on the goal line and up towards his hands.
He promptly dropped the ball – his only error of an increasingly frenzied match – only to grab it again before any damage was done.
A football club held its breath at that moment and this really was one of those nights.
There were only a handful of folk here to witness this but if Villa complete what has long looked an unlikely survival job by matching Watford’s result on Sunday, none of them will forget it.
Nor will those watching on TV. Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow described the prospect of relegation as a ‘£200million catastrophe’ earlier in the summer and if his club do manage to survive, this will be remembered as the night things turned. There is still a sizeable job to do. Villa go to West Ham on Sunday and – to all intents and purposes – the hosts have nothing to play for.
Watford, their rivals for the drop, are at Arsenal.
So it is a shoot-out and the bullets will be fired in north and east London.
If Villa show the gumption and application they displayed here, they have a gunslinger’s chance.
Reina’s moment of thanks came as Arsenal chased the game hard in the second half.Advertisement
Villa had led from the 26th minute after their Egyptian midfielder Trezeguet drove in a loose ball from a corner and they were beginning to hang on a little. Had Arsenal scored at that moment, it would have been hard to see Villa coming again to take all three points.
But Mikel Arteta’s team were poor after their FA Cup heroics of the weekend and the Spaniard will be cross about that.
Dean Smith’s Villa, on the other hand, were dogged and hard working and not lacking in courage. They all wanted the ball, they all wanted to get in the way of yellow Arsenal shirts and they all wanted to run until they were no longer required to.
Nobody froze and that bodes well for Sunday. Last week they led late on at Everton and threw it away, but not here.
It seemed a lesson had been learned.
This was a game of few chances but that did not make it a poor one.
It was a little scrappy in the first half and when Villa took the lead it was against the run of play and via their first shot on target.
That didn’t matter.
It was a well taken goal, Conor Hourihane taking a corner to the near post, Tyrone Mings flicking it on and Trezeguet drilling the ball home low and first time.
Arsenal’s response was professional and determined. They clearly came to Villa expecting to win and seemed affronted to be behind.
That is a good sign.
Early in the second half, the Londoners pressed hard to get back in the game.
Young Bukayo Saka volleyed a chance over at the far post after Cedric Soares crossed deep and then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned seven yards out only to find Ezri Konsa in the way.
It felt as though it may be a long way to the finish line for Villa but as their need increased late in the game, so did their performance levels.
Jack Grealish became influential and played substitute Keinan Davis clear with the score at 1-0. Davis shot wide.
By the end Grealish was everywhere and so was John McGinn.
Neither have been at their best since lockdown but they did their bit here and when Grealish fell with cramp at full time it was understandable.
By the end it was ‘anywhere will do’ time and Villa proved quite good at that.
Reina came for everything and caught everything.
The former Liverpool keeper was authoritative and it was necessary.
Central defender Tyrone Mings headed and cleared what he had to and eventually, after four minutes added time, Villa collapsed over the finishing line.