Villa aiming to muscle in on Big Four

Aston Villa are the latest club banging on the door of the Premier League's big four and after victory at Arsenal last week they host champions Manchester United on Saturday confident they are closing the gap.

Villa's 2-0 victory at the Emirates after a couple of hiccups was proof that Villa boss Martin O'Neill's side are capable of breaking the stranglehold and victory over United would see them leapfrog Alex Ferguson's side.

With Curtis Davies, Gabriel Agbonlahor Gareth Barry and Ashley Young all in the England squad for the midweek friendly against Germany in Berlin, Villa fans believe the club is on the verge of returning to the days when they were a force in Europe.

"The top four have set the standards. We want to close the gap and break into that top bracket," midfielder James Milner told the club's website on Wednesday.

"Champions League football is part of the aim. That's what every footballer wants to do, we all want that at Villa.

"But we can't get carried away after one good result. We'll need to be in the right frame of mind against United."

The real test, however, will be if Villa can produce consistent results against the title contenders and cut out the dreadful performances that cost them in defeats against Middlesbrough and Newcastle United recently.

APPALLING RECORD

Villa, who last won the English title in 1981, have an appalling home record against United in recent years and have to go back to 2001 for the last time they managed a point.

Even so, United boss Alex Ferguson will be wary of the threat they pose and is expected to recall striker Wayne Rooney and defender Rio Ferdinand, who both missed last weekend's 5-0 hammering of Stoke City and England's trip to Berlin.

United cannot afford many more slips this season, having fallen eight points behind leaders Chelsea and Liverpool, albeit with a game in hand.

Chelsea, who lead the table on goal difference, are at home to a struggling Newcastle United side that will be without midfielder Joey Barton who has a knee injury.

Liverpool should have Steven Gerrard back for their home game against Fulham after he missed England's friendly with a well-documented thigh strain.

Gloom descended on Arsenal last week after the Villa defeat and Theo Walcott dislocating his shoulder training with England has added to the misery before the trip to Manchester City.

The Gunners are nine points adrift in the title race and manager Arsene Wenger can ill afford any more bad news as his players return to base from international duty.