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North London pride spurs on Arsenal against Villa

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20 Dec 2011 21:46:52

North London pride spurs on Arsenal against Villa

Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny has conceded the 12-point gap between his team and Premier League leaders Manchester City is "too big" for the Gunners to dream about challenging for the title this season.

But he insisted there is still something worth fighting for this term - finishing higher than arch north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Szczesny believes Arsenal will have to wait until the new year before they reassess their targets for the season following Sunday's 1-0 loss to City.

Defeat at Eastlands left Arsenal in fifth place, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and five shy of Spurs in third.

Results over the busy Christmas period, starting on Wednesday away to Aston Villa are key to the Gunners' hopes of making up ground, according to Szczesny.

"It is too big a gap but we hope we can make it smaller and then we can talk about challenging for the title," said the Poland international. "We are confident going into the Christmas period that we can get the results.

"Getting above Tottenham is the main target. We don't want to finish below them no matter what.

"That's just my personal ambition because I am one of the fans and so it means a lot to me to finish above them. I am confident we will do so.

"They will slip up eventually," he added. "They have been in good form -- you have to give it to them -- but I am confident we are a better side and will finish above them.

"Time will tell if they can handle the pressure but they look good at the moment. Hopefully they will drop points in the second half of the season."

Arsenal matched City in all departments barring the scoreline on Sunday and their performance gave Szczsesny confidence that there was little to separate the Gunners and the league leaders in terms of quality.

"They just got the winning goal and that was the difference," he said.

"But we showed that we are just as good as the richest team and possibly, at the moment, the best team in the league so that gives us confidence we can beat everyone else."

Arsenal travel to Villa Park without defender Johan Djourou, out for up to three weeks with a groin problem.

Djourou's absence could mean Laurent Koscielny switches to right back, with Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker in central defence. Ignasi Miquel, 19, could be drafted in at left-back.

In addition to manager Arsene Wenger's headaches in the back four, Alex Song is suspended after he received his fifth booking of the season against City.

Villa, meanwhile, hope to have Darren Bent back for the game against Arsenal -- and it will come as some relief to the striker after he was castigated by fans for going shopping during Sunday's 2-0 defeat by Liverpool.

Bent was ruled out of the Liverpool game with a thigh injury and spent Sunday morning having treatment.

He was then spotted Christmas shopping while his team were being beaten at Villa Park.

Bent, Villa's record signing, who has scored five times this season, later used Twitter to reassure supporters he was fully behind the team.

Villa are understood to be unconcerned, but Bent said: "Nothing is more important to me than playing football, sadly injury meant I wasn't able to do that today (Sunday)."

"Gutted not to be involved. I hope to be back very soon. Watched the majority of the game on TV. Never knew popping out would cause an issue and for that I apologise."

Along with Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor is expected to return having served a one-match suspension.


AFP

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