Is Aston Villa’s Champions League dream over?

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta

On March 1st, Aston Villa were three minutes away from opening up an eight point lead over Arsenal as the Villains sat comfortably in fourth place. Sixteen days later the gap has been cut to nothing and Arsenal have reclaimed fourth spot on goal difference.

When Aston Villa were 2-0 up against Stoke at home just over two weeks ago, it really looked as if Arsenal would have to settle for Europa League football next season. But two last-gasp strikes from Hawcross and Whelan meant that Villa failed to capitalise on the points dropped at the Emirates the day before.

There are still nine games to go, but it looks as if March 1st could have been the turning point for Martin O’Neill’s side.

Villa have lost their last two league games and their next two matches are away at Liverpool and Man Utd – two of the toughest grounds to visit in the Premier League. Arsenal’s corresponding two matches are against Man City at home and away at Wigan – so on the face of it one would expect the Gunners to open up a lead on Villa.

But the reality of it is that Arsenal still need to play all of the other ‘top four’ teams once – a third of their remaining matches. They are away at Liverpool and Man Utd and home to Chelsea. And Arsenal’s form this season has been less than consistent. However, fans who witnessed the demolishing of Blackburn at the Emirates on Saturday will feel confident that fourth place should be secured.

And with Andrey Arshavin having an instant impact, coupled with a return from injury for captain Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor and Tomas Rosicky, as well as the recent returns to fitness for Theo Walcott and Eduardo, Arsene Wenger will soon be facing a selection conundrum.

In the league, Villa have taken just one point from a possible 12 – they also crashed out of the UEFA Cup after suffering a 2-0 defeat at the hands of CSKA Moscow. Martin O’Neill’s side have lost five out of their last seven games in all competitions.

O’Neill believes that for Villa to have realistic chance of finishing in the top four, they must take something from their next two games against Liverpool and United.

He said after the defeat to Tottenham yesterday: “We can still finish in the top four – absolutely – it is still possible. Our recent results don’t suggest that, I know, but we are more than capable.”

“It looks like we’re going to have to get something out of the next two games – at Liverpool and Manchester United – which will be incredibly tough but it is possible.”

It’s not the first time that Arsenal have faced a battle for fourth spot. In 2006, the Gunners went into the last day of the season knowing that if Tottenham won away at West Ham, Arsenal would finish fifth. But Spurs lost and Arsene Wenger’s side did the business against Wigan to secure the Champions League place.

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