Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill may have a small squad but there is still so much competition for places that he has warned his players no-one will have a divine right to be in the side.

The Northern Irishman's comments come after Stiliyan Petrov was dropped from the starting line-up against Chelsea at Villa Park on Sunday before playing the last ten minutes as a substitute.

Petrov, who is currently away with his Bulgaria national side, has been a virtual ever present in O'Neill's line-up when fit since his move from Celtic last January.

And the manager insists the 28-year-old does not get picked over anyone else simply because O'Neill also worked with him at Celtic.

O'Neill said: "Stiliyan Petrov is going through a tough time at this minute but he will come back.

"The crowd have got more anxious at a time when he maybe needs them behind him, just to settle him down.

"But players have to come through these things. I had it myself in my career and every player gets it at some stage or another.

"It has been suggested that I have put 'Stan' in front of some of the other lads simply because I bought him.

"The bottom line is I really couldn't care who is in the team - if players are doing it for me, then I couldn't care less whether he cost me #6.5 million or #200,000.

"If I think they deserve to go in the side, they will go in the side. That is why I think Craig Gardner was unlucky against Chelsea. He is not a right-back, essentially he is a midfielder.

"You could turn around and tell me Shaun Maloney, who I paid #1 million for, was desperately unlucky not to play against Chelsea. You can go down that road until you are blue in the face.

"No-one has a divine right to be in the team. I'd hope for us at some stage the same would apply to Gareth Barry but he is so good for us at the moment.

"If I had someone better than Ashley Young then he'd play but there are not many better than him up and down the country.

"We have a squad here and all these boys will play games. I am not saying we have the ability to rotate like the top four sides but we need these players.

"I left Petrov out at times at Celtic and even in some European games. But he has always come roaring back."

Meanwhile, Villa defender Martin Laursen is set to be offered a new contract which will keep him at Villa Park for the foreseeable future.

The 30-year-old Denmark international, who faces Sweden this weekend in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, is in the final year of a four-year-deal at Villa Park and, while his career has been dogged by injury since he joined Villa from AC Milan, his recent form has been spectacular.

Laursen was man of the match in the 2-0 win against Chelsea and O'Neill said: "If Martin was fit, agile and 22, with his sort of attitude, you'd give him a ten-year deal.

"He has a heart the size of a lion and has done fantastically well to recover from all his injuries.

"He wants to play every match and I have absolutely no problem sitting down and discussing his future with him."

O'Neill is also currently in talks with defender Olof Mellberg and striker Luke Moore to tie up their contracts which also only have a year left to run.