x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Villa's time to shine

A victory against Arsenal would be another stepping stone towards breaking the big four.

Aston Villa's Ashley Young controls the ball.
Aston Villa's Ashley Young controls the ball.

Last Saturday's 2-1 win over Manchester United ended much of the talk about Arsenal be too soft, too young or simply not good enough to compete with the Premier League's best - now it is Aston Villa's turn. The Midlands team have steadily improved in the two years under manager Martin O'Neill, but are not yet considered a legitimate threat to break into the top four. Victory against the Gunners today could start to change all that.

Trying can only get you so far - Villa have not beaten Arsenal in their last 19 meetings. Prolonged stretches of futility against United (25 league games without a win) and Liverpool (14 games), plus just two victories in their past 11 meetings with Chelsea, highlight the point that O'Neill's side need to start taking points from the top teams if they are to be taken seriously. The Gunners' win over United means that they certainly are.

"Arsenal have a great squad. If you look at the table it's no surprise they're up there challenging for the league crown again because they've got world-class players all over the pitch," said the Villa winger and boyhood Arsenal fan Ashley Young. "They pass and move magnificently and they've got flair throughout the side." Villa sit fifth in the table, two points behind Arsenal and nine behind leaders Chelsea and Liverpool, and they desperately need to rebound from back-to-back league defeats to Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

Arsenal's youngsters proved in the midweek Carling Cup win over Wigan that the club have a bright future, but it should not be forgotten that it was only two weeks ago that the Gunners were being manhandled en route to defeat at Stoke. Harry Redknapp's Midas touch since taking charge at Tottenham continued with a midweek Carling Cup victory over Liverpool. Spurs, who visit Fulham, are onepoint off the bottom, but have taken 10 points for their four league games under Redknapp.

"Heads were down and he [Redknapp] came in and stroked their egos a bit," said striker Fraizer Campbell said. "Everyone has responded brilliantly to it." Fulham have conceded 12 goals in their last three games against Spurs, but have won their last two home games - against Newcastle and Wigan. Those two teams meet this afternoon. Just three points separate the bottom 11 sides and the Magpies - like Fulham - have won their past two home games.

akunawicz@thenational.ae