LONDON: Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane gave his side a 1-0 home win over Norwich City to move them one step closer to safety in the Premier League yesterday. The result moved Villa to 18 points, within a point of 17th placed West Ham United, while Norwich remain deep in the drop zone.
Norwich full back Sam Byram nearly opened the scoring for the visitors in the 18th minute with a header from an Emi Buendia corner, only to see it come off the woodwork with goalkeeper Tom Heaton well and truly beaten. Anwar El Ghazi had two good chances to put Villa ahead in the opening period. But he first failed to sort out his feet when attempting a shot from Trezeguet’s header across the box, before another first-time effort from a Matt Target cross went wide.
Villa finally made the breakthrough when skipper Jack Grealish and second-half substitute Hourihane combined in the box for the latter to sweep a left-footed strike past Tim Krul into the far corner. In Bournemouth, a second-half equaliser from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Mikel Arteta a point in his first game as Arsenal manager as his side came back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Bournemouth in the Premier League yesterday.
The two sides came into the game in poor form, with Bournemouth having lost six of their last seven and Arsenal only winning once since beating Bournemouth 1-0 at the Emirates on Oct. 6. Arteta restored Mesut Ozil to the starting line-up and the German forward looked sharp in the opening exchanges, but despite Arteta energetically encouraging his team from the sidelines, they failed to create many chances.
Arsenal’s sloppiness was punished when they gave the ball away cheaply on the left wing and Bournemouth sliced through them quickly, midfielder Dan Gosling stabbing home Jack Stacey’s centre from close range to give the home side the lead. The Gunners equalised in the 63rd minute as Reiss Nelson’s shot deflected into the path of Aubameyang, and he swivelled to rifle the ball home before a wild celebration with the traveling fans that earned him a yellow card.
Both sides created opportunities in the pouring rain, but neither could grab a winner and the draw left Arsenal in 11th place on 24 points, with Bournemouth four points further back in 16th. “We missed a lot of chances in the second half, we should get the three points today but that can happen,” Aubameyang said. “I think the attitude of the boys was great but we have to improve our chances.”
Arteta was disappointed not to win the game, but said his players had performed well. “In terms of attitude, desire and commitment it was better than I expect. They are not used to playing at this rhythm,” said the 37-year-old Spaniard, who spent five seasons as a player at the club. “I am still learning about the players, about the priorities, to make them more secure when they jump on to the pitch. My only aim now is to find solutions, to attack better, defend better,” Arteta added.
In Sheffield, Watford moved off the bottom of the Premier League after a spirited performance earned them a 1-1 draw at dominant Sheffield United yesterday. The visitors took a 27th-minute lead through Gerard Deulofeu against the run of play before Oliver Norwood levelled with a 36th-minute penalty after Will Hughes tripped George Baldock. The result left Watford 19th on 13 points from 19 games, one ahead of bottom team Norwich City, while Sheffield United slipped one place down to sixth on 29 points.
After a 10-minute kick-off delay over what Sheffield United called operational issues, Oliver McBurnie twice went close for the home side before Deulofeu struck from out of the blue as he raced clear and scored with a neat finish from 12 metres. Norwood levelled when he drove his spot-kick low past Watford keeper Ben Foster, who kept his side afloat with a superb 64th-minute reflex save to deny John Fleck from close range. Foster palmed away an Enda Stevens scorcher before the visitors came agonisingly close to snatching a late winner, with Deulofeu curling a free kick inches wide of Dean Henderson’s left-hand post.
Meanwhile, Jordan Ayew’s magnificent late solo goal earned Crystal Palace a 2-1 come-from-behind home win against West Ham United in a lively festive derby at Selhurst Park yesterday. It looked as though honours would be even but Ayew produced an incredible moment of skill, pirouetting on the edge of the area, jinking past a West Ham defender and dinking a cool finish over West Ham keeper Roberto Jimenez.
West Ham, who had enjoyed a 12-day rest ahead of the Christmas programme, took the lead against the run of play in the 57th minute when Robert Snodgrass curled home left-footed. Palace reacted impressively though and equalised 11 minutes later when Ayew nodded down for former West Ham midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate to volley home from close range.
The match had come alive after a poor first half in which Ayew had wasted the best chance when he scuffed wide from close range. Victory was Palace’s first in four Premier League games and lifted them into the top half of the table while West Ham remain hovering just above the relegation zone.