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The Premier League season has reached its final week as teams are looking to either qualify for European play next season or stay in the Premier League in general. Arsenal had a lot of confidence heading into today’s Aston Villa match clinging to slim European hopes (five points behind Tottenham Hotspur). After a disappointing loss in the North London Derby against Tottenham nine days ago, they rebounded in amazing fashion. They defeated the champions Liverpool 2-1 despite losing the shot battle 24-3. It was the best win in manager Mikel Arteta’s young managerial career. They followed that up with an impressive 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals.
Aston Villa came into this match with everything to play for. Earlier in the day, Watford was blown out 4-0 by Man City. This set up a scenario where an Aston Villa victory would put them above Watford and jump out of the relegation zone. The match started out slow with both teams creating chances that left no real threat for either goalkeeper.
Everything changed in the 27th minute where Aston Villa midfielder Trezeguet smashed in a volley off a deflection to give Villa a 1-0 lead. Arsenal dominated possession in the first half but looked flat with it. They did not have a truly threatening chance in the first half.
Arteta decided to sub in midfielder Granit Xhaka and immediately, Arsenal started to play with more pace and creativity, setting up solid chances around the goal. Despite this, Aston Villa continued to attack the Arsenal defense that has played sloppily all match long. In the 75th minute, Keinan Davis got past the Arsenal defense for a 1-on-1 chance on goal, but he missed it wide, keeping the score at 1-0.
Two minutes later, Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah made contact on a header that bounced off the post and into the arms of Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Two minutes after that, Villa midfielder John McGinn smashed a shot that was saved by Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez.
Despite constant pressure from Arsenal, Villa would hold on to pick up the huge 1-0 victory. Villa jumps up to 17th place and out of the relegation zone as they hold a better goal differential than Watford. Villa finishes the season against West Ham United on Sunday.
For Arsenal, this was a very disappointing result. They are eliminated from Europa League qualification and have lost to a club in the bottom four after beating the Premier League’s top two clubs last week. The first half was an absolute disaster. They did not play Xhaka who has been a difference maker for Arsenal since Arteta took over. On top of that, they played flat, displaying the same complacency that has plagued them for years. While the second half was much better, it wasn’t enough to at least get a draw. Seeing this lack of effort once again has left me wondering what the future truly holds for the club.
Will we see the Arsenal that beat Liverpool and Man City or the club that lost to Aston Villa? Time will tell as Arsenal wraps up their season on Sunday against Watford. They will face Chelsea in the FA Cup final six days after that.