Unai Emery came back to hunt Arsenal on Saturday as Aston Villa cut another Premier League title contender down to size.
A 1-0 win at Villa Park set a new club record of 15 straight home victories in the league and moved Emery’s team to within two points of first-placed Liverpool.
How sweet it must have been for the Spanish coach to get the better of his former club after being fired by Arsenal in 2019.
He had already rebuilt his reputation before taking over a Villa team that was in danger of being relegated last season. But his work with the Midlands club could be his finest yet in a career that has seen him win four Europa League titles.
Third-placed Villa look like a serious title contender after a recent run that includes wins against Manchester City and Tottenham.
“We are increasing mentality and believing how we can be stronger,” Emery said. “We want to be in the top eight teams, but a lot of teams want to be there. At the beginning there were seven top teams, but we will fight to be in there. While we are in we can be excited and motivated to get it.”
John McGinn scored the only goal after seven minutes and Villa held on to deny late-goal specialist Arsenal an equalizer that manager Mikel Arteta believed was the least his team deserved.
“I’m really proud of the way the team played in this stadium against this team,” Arteta said.
“We deserved to win the game, but you have to be better in the boxes and things have to go your way as well.
“I see many, many teams come here and I haven’t seen many do what we have done to them today. The result is not there but, certainly, the way we played it was there.”
Arsenal led the league at the start of the day and dropped to second and a point behind Liverpool.
Manager Jurgen Klopp was relieved after “lucky” Liverpool pulled off a comeback 2-1 win at Crystal Palace.
Klopp admitted his team was “horrendous” as it trailed 1-0 at Selhurst Park after Jean-Philippe Mateta’s penalty in the 57th.
The attitude and momentum flipped when Palace’s Jordan Ayew was sent off in the 75th and a minute later Mo Salah’s deflected shot levelled the score. Almost inevitably, Harvey Elliott struck from distance to seal victory in stoppage time.
“I’m a very happy manager in this moment, but I know we were lucky as well,” Klopp said. “If you only win your really good games you have no chance to be really successful, that’s how it is, and obviously today was not a really good game from us.
“For 76 minutes it was a really bad performance.”
Salah’s latest landmark goal launched Liverpool’s revival at Selhurst Park.
The Egypt international reached 200 goals for Liverpool – the fifth man to the mark – and 150 in the Premier League, which moved him into the all-time top 10, tied with Michael Owen.
“The most important thing was that we won the game,” Salah said. “It’s a great feeling. I’m happy for the record and that we won the game.”
Meanwhile Erik ten Hag looked like he had the weight of the world on his mind after another setback for Manchester United against Bournemouth.
An abject performance by United at home saw it lose 3-0 and spark loud jeers from the Old Trafford crowd.
Goals by Dominic Solanke, Philip Billing and Marcos Senesi piled the misery on Ten Hag, a day after he was named the Premier League manager of November.
It was United’s seventh defeat in the league and 11th defeat in all competitions. It was all the more perplexing just three days after United’s mood-lifting defeat of Chelsea by 2-1. United missed a chance to go level on points with fourth-placed Manchester City.
“Of course (I’m) annoyed, disappointed, definitely. I expected something different,” Ten Hag said. “I hoped before the game you can build on the performance and result from Chelsea, so it’s very disappointing.”
It didn’t take long for Chris Wilder to get a reaction from Sheffield United after returning to the club as manager this week. Having suffered defeat to Liverpool in mid-week, he led his team to a 1-0 win against Brentford in his second game in charge.
James McAtee scored the decisive goal in first-half stoppage time.
But Sheffield United remained at the bottom of the table after 19th-placed Burnley drew with Brighton 1-1.
The bottom two are level on eight points each.