London: Hapless bottom club Aston Villa avoided relegation from the Premier League by the skin of their teeth on Saturday despite a 2-1 loss at home to Bournemouth.
Goals from Steve Cook and Josh King gave Bournemouth victory at Villa Park, but Norwich City’s 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace kept Villa hanging by a mathematical thread.
“Not going down today is a small consolation,” Villa caretaker manager Eric Black admitted to the BBC.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s title hopes took another hit in a 3-3 draw at West Ham United, with Laurent Koscielny’s strike earning a point for the visitors after Andy Carroll’s hat-trick saw West Ham come from 2-0 down to lead.
The result left Arsenal 10 points below leaders Leicester City, who visit third-bottom Sunderland on Sunday, and three points behind second-place Tottenham Hotspur, who entertain Manchester United later the same day.
Fourth-place Manchester City can close to within two points of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, and move four points above West Ham, if they prevail at home to West Bromwich Albion later on Saturday.
While Villa remain a top-flight club for the time being, demotion to the second tier for the first time since the 1987-88 season is all but inevitable.
Cook put Bournemouth ahead at Villa with a clever back-heel finish in first-half stoppage time and King added another in the 74th minute, before Jordan Ayew reduced the arrears late on.
Villa are now 15 points below fourth-bottom Norwich with only 15 points left to play for.
“We’ve conceded poor-ish goals, but we have to remain professional until the end,” added Black, who stepped in last month after Villa parted company with manager Remi Garde.
“Come Monday morning we have to dust ourselves down and go again.”
In contrast, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, promoted from the Championship last May, are now 14 points clear of danger in 11th place and can look forward to another season of top-flight football.
That Villa survived the executioner’s axe owed to a glorious goal from Jason Puncheon, whose 68th-minute curler earned Palace a 1-0 win over Norwich that ended a dismal run of 14 league games without victory.
Palace are now 10 points clear of the relegation zone, having played a game more than third-bottom Sunderland, who trail Norwich by four points with two games in hand.
Second-bottom Newcastle United appear increasingly doomed after a wretched 3-1 defeat at Southampton left Rafael Benitez’s side six points from safety with six games to play.
Sloppy defending allowed Shane Long, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama to put Southampton 3-0 up before the hour, with Andros Townsend replying - spectacularly, but in vain - in the 65th minute.
“It’s important that everybody continues to believe,” said Benitez.
“The anxiety is killing us sometimes. If we can control these things then things will change.”
West Ham and Arsenal played out a gripping but mutually damaging six-goal thriller at Upton Park that did little for either the former’s Champions League hopes or the latter’s fading title aspirations.
Neatly taken goals by Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez put Arsenal 2-0 up, only for Carroll to net twice in 160 seconds at the end of the first half.
The towering striker headed in Michail Antonio’s cross to complete an eight-minute hat-trick early in the second period, but Arsenal rescued a point when Koscielny hooked in a 70th-minute equaliser.
“We’ve shown resilience and spirit to come back to 3-3,” said Arsenal manager Wenger. “In the last 20 minutes it could have gone both ways.
“Do we still have an opportunity to win the title? I don’t know. We made it more difficult today.”
Swansea City effectively secured their safety by beating Chelsea 1-0 courtesy of a first-half volley from Gylfi Sigurdsson, ending interim Blues manager Guus Hiddink’s 15-game unbeaten run.
In the day’s remaining fixture, Everton’s James McCarthy and Watford’s Jose Holebas both struck in first-half injury time in a 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road.