For Arsenal, previously carrier, the success of the season now rests solely on their FA Cup final against Chelsea. Qualifying for the Europa League through the league is now impossible and Mikel Arteta could come to regret a flat and imprecise display.Anyone wondering if Villa would be squeezed or loosened by the occasion felt unsettled, in the first few minutes, by the lingering hum of a light plane sent in thinking of visitors. “Back Arteta, Kroenke out” reads the banner behind the plane, which circled the stadium on several occasions and was presumably commissioned by supporters familiar with the manager’s recent demands for a pre-investment. -season. One group of fans in particular quickly claimed the credit on social media.
Arteta had found sufficient resources to make six changes as their FA Cup heroics against Manchester City weighed heavily on already strained legs. At Wembley, Arsenal had voluntarily returned more than two-thirds of the possession; against Villa no such drastic action should be necessary and they quickly started on the front foot, passing the ball to their rear wings with the sole aim of being disappointed with an inadequate delivery combination and, especially from ‘Ezri Konsa, defense alert.
Before the half hour, however, Villa had made the breakthrough. They hadn’t threatened much at first, a harmless looping header from John McGinn aside, and seemed caught between the poles now that their situation wasn’t pure desperation. It appeared that the game was in danger of overtaking them, but Trezeguet then categorically recalled their threat.
If the conception of the goal was orthodox, its execution was masterful. Conor Hourihane’s delivery has been Villa’s main source of chances in recent weeks and now he was there again with a left-footed turn to rushing Tyrone Mings, who couldn’t make the proper contact but could -be had the slightest touch.
Either way, the ball hit an unguarded Trezeguet a few yards in the right corner of the box and his half volley, cut viciously inside the near post of Emiliano Martínez, was unstoppable. Trezeguet had scored twice in Villa’s previous home game, a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. The winger has been a mercurial client throughout his career, but appears to have taken a convenient time to develop a ruthless streak.
Moments before his flash from the right boot, another Egyptian international, right-back Ahmed Elmohamady, had been replaced by Frédéric Guilbert due to a hamstring injury. But Arsenal, despite all their intention, showed little sign of capitalizing on defensive disarray before half-time.
A shot from Dani Ceballos, passed over 20 yards after a clever free-kick from Cedric Soares, was all that looked like an opening and, with the newly floating Villa, their problems could have escalated. Trezeguet walked too close to Martínez looking for another brace, then the previously silent Jack Grealish cut to the left to ease an effort plunging a few inches from the far right.
It’s no surprise to see Granit Xhaka deployed for the second half in place of Lucas Torreira, who looked lost and, in addition to being reserved, at one point incurred the visible frustration of David Luiz. There was no immediate improvement, with Villa instead forcing a succession of early corners, but Arsenal slowly started to wake up.
Bukayo Saka has been extremely efficient all season, so it was a surprise to see him spoon over the bar after a cross from Soares. In all fairness, the ball had landed on his weaker right foot; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang quickly experienced a similar problem when, spinning on a delivery from Eddie Nketiah and attempting a shot with his left, he allowed the excellent Konsa to block.
Guilbert saw a widely deflected shot on the other end before Arteta, clearly frustrated with Arsenal’s lack of incision, introduced Kieran Tierney and Nicolas Pépé. Now they were operating efficiently with a four-man forward line, but Villa had shown little sign of exposure by the time half the glasses were taken.
Aston Villa could have sealed the victory with 15 minutes remaining when the just entered Keinan Davis was released after a sparkling run from Grealish. The forward dragged his shot away and was made to sweat almost immediately as Nketiah headed for the inside of Pepe Reina’s post. But Villa has survived a late wave of pressure and this season’s big breakout is now in sight.