A first half goal from Aston Villa's Egyptian midfielder Trezeguet settled this fraught clash as Arsenal went down 1-0 on Tuesday evening at Villa Park.
An excellent strike from Villa's 25-year-old former Anderlecht man sealed an important victory for Dean Smith's relegation battlers as they moved out of the bottom three ahead of Watford, who lost 4-0 at home to Manchester City.
The result sets up a tense final weekend of the season with the Hornets visiting Mikel Arteta's Gunners on Sunday while the midlanders have to travel to West Ham in search of the victory which will seal their Premier League status.
Aston Villa vs Arsenal form guide
Villa went into their 36th Premier League match of the 2019-20 campaign knowing that they would be relegated if Watford bettered the Villains result. With the Hornets losing 4-0 at home to Manchester City it would prove to be a nailbiting evening for both relegation battlers.
While Dean Smith’s side went into the clash having lost three of their last five league games they were aiming to go unbeaten for three consecutive matches for only the second time this season, following a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace last time out at Villa Park before a creditable 1-1 draw at Goodison Park against Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton. Victory over the Gunners would have seen them win successive home league fixtures for the first time since 2015 under then boss Tim Sherwood.
The Gunners for their part were on course for their lowest points total during a 38- match league campaign, and were set to finish outside the top six for only the third time in Premier League history. If they failed to win they would also post four away wins in a campaign equaling their club record lowest total of triumphs on the road.
However, two stirring victories in the space of five days has boosted even the more skeptical of supporters. Arteta’s side beat champions Liverpool 2-1 at the Emirates– albeit against a Jurgen Klopp team that had taken their foot off the pedal after being crowned champions - before eclipsing Pep Guardiola’s City 2-0 at Wembley on Sunday to reach the FA Cup final.
It was a case of apprentice trumping master as Arteta emerged victorious against his former boss, leading to the normally dignified Guardiola to unnecessarily criticise Arsenal in the aftermath. Arteta would have taken the slur as a back-handed compliment in as much as rivals only target clubs they fear. Meaning Arteta’s Arsenal are rebooting and rebuilding in a bid to compete at the top table of English football once again.
“After beating City in the semi-final, to go to Villa Park two and a half days later is a difficult task,” Arteta said previewing the match, adding: “I want my team to be super-prepared because we are going to be fighting against a team that has to have a perfect performance and win their last two games to escape relegation. I want my team to go really aggressive against them and get the points.”
On Tuesday evening in the west Midlands at grand old Villa Park, all that mattered for the highly-regarded Arteta - as well as relegation battlers Villa - was the three points on offer. And so it was to prove.
Aston Villa vs Arsenal team news
Aston Villa's on-loan midfielder Danny Drinkwater was in the frame to make a first appearance since the restart after recovering from a minor injury, but boss Smith opted against including him. Kortney Hause returned to the match-day squad, even if Neil Taylor was still sidelined with a hamstring problem.
Arsenal were set to rotate their squad with Eddie Nketiah available following suspension and Cedric Soares no longer cup tied bolstering the squad following the news that Shkodran Mustafi had been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Aston Villa vs Arsenal head to head
Villa went into the game winless in 17 home matches against the Gunners (seven draws, ten defeats) losing six consecutive games by an aggregate score of 19-3 since a 3-2 victory on December 13, 1998.
This correspondent was at that momentous match, where Arsene Wenger’s side coasted into a 2-0 first half lead before a horrific accident occurred at Villa Park during the interval.
With a light aircraft buzzing around Villa Park at the start of tonight’s match – bearing the message: ‘Back Arteta – Kroenke Out’ thoughts turned to that fateful afternoon 22 years ago in the west Midlands when a sky diver who jumped from a small airplane as part of the half time entertainment.
Unfortunately the daredevil misjudged his descent and careered into the main stand, his motionless body balancing on the edge of the stand before toppling to the ground near to the dugouts as 39,000 people looked on in horror.
The game was held up for 20 minutes as the man was treated at the scene before a shellshocked Gunners side were beaten by 3-2 by a Dion Dublin inspired brace which propelled a Villa side containing future England boss Gareth Southgate and the late Ugo Ehiogu to victory.
As it was football paled into insignificance compared to the unfolding human tragedy. Thankfully the sky diver did survive his injuries but ultimately did not recover from mental scars incurred on an afternoon anyone who witnessed it will never forget.
Aston Villa vs Arsenal first half
Arsenal lined up with a back three of Sead Kolasinac, David Luiz and Rob Holding, flanked by Bukayo Saka on the left and Cedric Soares with Lucas Torreira as defensive midfield alongside the more creative Dani Ceballos with Alex Lacazette up top, Nketiah, right and Pierre-Emeick Aubameyang on the left.
The opening stages were punctuated by the sound of a light aircraft buzzing he stadium noisily bearing the anti-Kroenke message.
The implication was clear: Arteta's comments about his 'concern' over just how much cash he has to spend this summer after the 2-1 victory over Liverpool put the ball firmly back in Kroenke's court.
Investment is needed to take Arsenal to the next level. To help Arteta build a squad he is capable of moulding into challengers. Put simply, Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of Arsenal, has to invest.
Despite a solid display the evidence was there the the Gunners need to bolster their squad as there was plenty of endeavour but little end product in the opening 45 minutes - with perspiration rather than inspiration the order of the day.
That was, until Trezeguet, with a thumping shot his namesake, the former Juventus striker would have enjoyed, put Villa ahead in the 27th minute, following an assist from Tyrone Mings.
The goal eased Smith's side ahead of Watford and out of the relegation places.
Shortly afterwards Ceballos' shot failed to trouble former Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina in front of the grand old Holte End, one of English footballs most evocative stands. As it was the sight of the empty stand was rather more captivating than the Real Madrid loanee's attempt on goal.
In a shapeless opening 45 minutes Jack Grealish looked assured, his balance allowing his excellent temperament to shine as he flitted in and out of the match, his cross for Trezeguet to draw a save from Emi Martinez three minutes before the internal. being a particular highlight.
Aston Villa vs Arsenal second half
Arteta replaced the sluggish Torreira at the break with Granit Xhaka - with the former Sampdoria midfielder on a yellow from referee Christopher Kavanagh after what was known as an enforcer on Hourihane.
As Villa attempted to hold onto their precious lead Arsenal pressed them deeper in a bid for parity.
Arteta, sensing their tentativeness at such a precarious lead in such an important fixture for them, brought off Saka for Pepe while changing Luiz for the energetic Kieran Tierney.
Bookings for agricultural challenges by Lacazette and for Villa's Douglas Luiz followed, underlining the competitive nature of this match, which while hard-fought was never dirty - which also saw Kolasinac go into the book late on for a robust effort.
Keinan Davis, a talented youngster from the Bedfordshire town Biggleswade made his entrance, replacing Mbwana Samatta.
The 22-year-old from who shone at Langford Road during his non-league days could and should have put the game side further ahead after he powered past the Arsenal backline only to steer his low shot wide of Martinez's left hand post.
Arsenal nearly levelled moments later when a header from Nketiah rebounded off the post and into the arms of Reina.
As the clock ticked down Arsenal probed Villa constantly, with the lively Tierney in particular causing problems down the left flank.
However, as the clock ticked down Smith's Villa were solid enough to repel the north Londoners to gain the win.
While Arteta's side have the FA Cup final to look forward to, Villa must be hoping Arsenal have enough to beat Watford on Sunday to confirm another season in the top flight.
It promises to be a nail biting end to the season.