Aston Villa took a giant leap towards safety as they beat Arsenal 1-0 at Villa Park to move out of the relegation zone heading into the final day.
The hosts were mightily impressive in the opening period and took a deserved lead through Trezeguet, who crashed home from the edge of the area past a stationary Emi Martinez.
Arsenal grew into proceedings at the start of the second half following the introduction of Granit Xhaka – fresh off the back of his imperious Wembley display – and they finally started to threaten Pepe Reina’s goal with greater regularity.
A tight contest started to open up in the final 20 minutes, as Keinan Davis spurned a glorious opportunity to double Villa’s lead when he was set away one-on-one with Martinez, before Eddie Nketiah glanced his header onto the inside of the post.
The Gunners continued to probe in search of an equaliser, but an uncharacteristically resolute Villa backline remained firm to preserve their 1-0 advantage and secure a massive three points in their bid for survival.
Key Talking Point
What a time to put in your finest performance of the season. With Watford on the end of a 4-0 thumping earlier this evening, Villa knew that victory against the Gunners would place their destiny in their own hands heading into the final day.
And quite simply, they played like a team possessed.
They were all over this confident Arsenal side like a rash; completely blunting the threat of their front three while making it incredibly tough for Arteta’s men to progress the ball upfield. The front men pressed and offered a serious threat on the break, the midfielders harried and defenders remained aggressive, defending the box expertly.
It was a collective effort and a completely deserved three points. The hosts were brilliant and now, they go into their final game of the season at West Ham knowing victory will secure their Premier League survival.
Starting XI: Reina (7); El Mohamady (6), Konsa (8), Mings (9), Targett (7); McGinn (8), Luiz (9*), Hourihane (7); Trezeguet (8), Samatta (6), Grealish (8).
Subs: Guilbert (7), Davis (5), Nakamba (6), Lansbury (N/A)
The form of the Brazilian has been admirable since the restart, with his stellar spell at the base of Villa’s midfield continuing on Tuesday night.
While Luiz was accomplished in possession and rarely ever put a foot wrong, his work as the holding midfielder in Dean Smith’s 4-1-4-1 shape out of possession is what really set him apart in a superb Villa performance.
So often he was the man to sniff out Arsenal’s transitional opportunities at source, using great anticipation, intensity and positional sense to thwart the Gunners from progressing.
Villa’s number six was quite simply superb, hounding Alexandre Lacazette throughout before the Frenchman’s substitution and overall, it’s easy to understand why City are keen on utilising the buy-back option placed in Luiz’s contract.
Key Talking Point
Some semi-final hangover, this.
Fresh off the back of a majestic victory over Manchester City in which they stifled the Cityzens’ potent attack and attacked themselves with ruthless efficiency, the Gunners churned out a toothless display at Villa Park.
With Arteta ringing the changes for Tuesday night’s encounter, the Gunners never looked settled in their recently adopted 3-4-3, with Villa doing well to trap Arsenal in central areas, ensuring they rarely penetrated in behind.
Defensively, they looked nervy – completely unrecognisable from Saturday’s showing – and after Arteta switched to a 4-2-3-1 following the arrival of Nicolas Pepe midway through the second period, they looked vulnerable to the counter and similarly devoid of ideas in attack.
The defeat means they will finish behind bitter rivals Tottenham for the fourth consecutive season.
Starting XI: Martinez (5); Holding (5), Luiz (6), Kolasinac (5); Cedric (5), Torreira (5), Ceballos (6), Saka (5); Lacazette (5), Nketiah (5), Aubameyang (6).
Subs: Xhaka (6*), Pepe (6), Tierney (6), Willock (N/A)
It was hardly a glittering display from the Swiss international, but he certainly had a positive impact on a turgid Arsenal display following his introduction at the break.
While Dani Ceballos and Lucas Torreira were overwhelmed by the work of John McGinn and company in the opening period, Xhaka restored some much needed order in central areas after the restart.
Xhaka was typically tidy in possession and ensured the midfield battle was much more of an even contest, but he wasn’t able to spearhead a turnaround for all his sound efforts.
Aston Villa travel to West Ham on the final day looking to secure safety with a win, while the Gunners will be looking to do them a favour as they host fellow relegation-battlers Watford at the Emirates.