Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill will ignore the growing trend of writing off Arsenal ahead of his team’s Boxing Day meeting with Arsene Wenger’s men.
O’Neill laughs off suggestions that the Gunners are a club in crisis this season despite numerous defeats and alleged in-fighting in the dressing room.
However the Irishman, whose team could open up a six-point lead over Arsenal with victory on Friday, is in no mood to criticise the Gunners.
The Villa manager is of the opinion that the North London club’s trophy collection under Wenger is such that they deserve respect rather than ridicule.
“I just think you cannot write them off because they are too talented a team,” said O’Neill, who is looking for a double over Arsenal after Villa’s 2-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium in November.
“If they do not have the same consistency as last season any defeat this season will be looked upon as a dropping off, but who can say that they will not go on to take the Champions League?
“If we could win the game it would give us a major psychological boost. It would an amazing double if that were to be the case.
“Of course, if Arsenal win they will have caught up with us immediately. Then it puts it puts a different perspective on things.”
O’Neill cites Arsenal’s knack of responding to setbacks and challenges with positive results as the primary reason why he still rates them as stronger candidates than Villa for a top four berth.
The Villa manager points to their recent record of two victories and a draw over title challengers Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, on the back of several unexpected defeats.
“I thought when Arsenal were down to 10 men against Liverpool on Sunday they were really excellent,” added O’Neill. “I expected them to surrender ground and come under a lot of pressure.
"Stats may be misleading but if someone told me that they didn’t have more of the ball at the time I would be really surprised.
“They have always qualified for the Champions League without a great deal of fuss and while they will always be compared, maybe unfavourably at the moment because they have not won the Premiership, compared to the great side which won the championship, my own view is that they are excellent.
“The minute they were written off what did they do but go and beat Manchester United.
“I know they lost to us but then they came roaring back and won at Chelsea.”
Meanwhile, winger James Milner believes Villa have a ‘winning habit’ after discovering the ability to grind out positive results even when they are not at their best.
“There is no doubt that we have played better this season, but there are games where it is going to be a battle and you don’t play that well,” said Milner.
“If you get three points from those games, as we did at West Ham, then you’re doing well.
“That shows the quality in the squad. It’s about knowing how to win and sustaining that winning habit. We certainly have that at the moment.”