By Randy Osae

Villa Park

Arsenal will never have a better, more timely opportunity to seize Aston Villa’s status as the new dark horses of the Premier League’s top four.

Mind you, Martin O’Neill’s men have been no fortuitous outsiders of where they are currently placed. To be fair, the only question left on Villa’s assay will be their form during the second half of the campaign…because they have done almost everything to prove better than Arsenal.

Subduing the Gunners at the Emirates last month appeared as a hint of their dare for a top four mix. And it’s coming sooner for them as Aston Villa now hold a lee-way three-point lead over Arsenal on the table, a better goal difference (by one goal) and certainly an audacious bet in Friday’s encounter.

The odds are not drastically against Arsenal though. In recent years, Tottenham and Bolton have all mounted tempting bids to evict Arsenal from custom Champions League qualification.

The former even stretched Wenger’s men all the way to final day of the 2005/06 season and despite some lucky aid from West ham’s sensational triumph over Spurs, it just seemed as though Arsenal were never meant to surrender their spot among England’s annual elite clubs.

With confidence or just optimism, it could be a similar scenario this year.

Then on, neither side from the past boasted Aston Villa’s over-achieving spark. Arsene Wener may have discounted them for the Premier League crown during his pre-match press conference, but statistics say the Villans are even more genuine title contenders than his own Arsenal. A run of six unbeaten games have seen Martin O’neill’s side become the top-flight’s in-form team, rising to just five points behind leaders Liverpool.

Victory tomorrow would give them a six point advantage over visiting Arsenal, but defeat would see the Gunners leapfrogging them on the goals rule. As if it has always been, Villa Park is actually not a ground of hoodoo for the Gunners. Arsenal are unbeaten in nine matches there, and are bidding for a third win on the bounce at the West Midlands venue.

A brief portion of the season is near complete, but the next time Arsenal will have focal figure Cesc Fabregas on the pitch again will be when the campaign is approaching it’s unraveling phase in April. That’s for how long Arsene Wenger’s side will be bared of deficiency, unless another Arsenal architect is unleashed.

The skipper joins long term absentees Walcott and Rosicky on the sidelines. Temporary injury woes will not limit Bendtner and Toure  from action but Emmanuel Adebayor’s silly double bookings last Sunday will keep him suspended for this trip only.

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