July 22 – The final day of the prolonged English domestic season is set for a dramatic drop zone dogfight with two out of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth exiting the top flight along with already doomed Norwich.
Sunday’s fixtures have been given extra spice by Villa’s surprise win over Arsenal on Tuesday on the same night that Watford paid for the non-sensical 11th-hour sacking of manager Nigel Pearson by being thrashed 4-0 by Manchester City.
The Watford owners made the shock decision to sack Pearson with two games to go, despite him having guided them off the foot of the table and out of trouble when appointed in December.
The three relegation-threatened side are separated by just three points, with almost identical goal difference – but with only one of them able to survive.
All three have to play away on Sunday. Villa go to West Ham, Watford to Arsenal and Bournemouth to Everton, setting up an intriguing battle. On paper Bournemouth, three points behind the other two, are in the most perilous position. But should they win and both Villa and Watford fail to take a point, they could feasibly stay up.
Indeed, goal difference could be key. Villa’s 1-0 victory over the Gunners took them to -26, a single goal better than Watford and Bournemouth’s -27. If they still cannot be separated at the end then goals scored comes into the equation, with Villa netting 40, Bournemouth 37 and Watford 34.
Villa were only promoted from the Championship last term and could be relegated from the Premier League for the second time in five seasons.
“It’s a big boost, that’s for sure,” their manager Dean Smith said after the win over Arsenal “We knew we had to win to catch Watford up. Now we’ve got the season in our own hands and that’s all you can ask for.”
Villa’s win was also highly significant for Arsenal who will find themselves finishing outside the top six for the first time in 25 years, a serious indictment of the post-Arsene Wenger years. And unless they win the FA Cup on August 1 against Chelsea, they will also fail to qualify for Europe, rounding off a dire campaign.
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