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A look ahead to Aston Villa

Gabriel Aghbonlahor attempts to escape the challenge of Gareth Barry in the sides clash earlier this season. (Picture from Gett Images).
Gabriel Aghbonlahor attempts to escape the challenge of Gareth Barry in the sides clash earlier this season. (Picture from Gett Images).

Having satisfied himself that a point at Arsenal would be enough, Roberto Mancini now knows that the final three games need to yield three victories to ensure a fourth place finish and a shot at Champions League football next season.

It is a position that at the outset of the season, not many would have truly anticipated, but having played ourselves into this postiion, to not take this opportunity (and 'settle' for Europa League football) would be a huge disappointment, a sentiment echoed by Mancini himself:

"We work for this for a year - now at the end of the season we have three games. We wanted fourth position, now we have chance. The players have this set in their minds."

First up in our quest then is Aston Villa - represented here on SBNation by '7500 to Holte'. Having been hammered 7-1 at Chelsea it looked for all intent and purposes that their top four hopes had been cruelly extinguished that day, yet dismissing suggestions that the result would be the catalyst for them to falter they have hauled themselves firmly back in the running.

Villa are a solid side who will not affair many surprise by way of their tactics or selection. The front two of Carew and Aghbonlahor will be well supported by Ashley Young and James Milner - the latter of who has been superb this season. They play to their undoubted strengths (although Arsene Wenger offered a slightly different interpretation) and have a solid foundation at the back with Friedel, Collins and of course Richard Dunne, sure to be offered a fitting reception on his first return back to the club.

Regardless of whether Gareth Barry passes a fitness test, I expect Mancini to adopt the 4-4-2 that has been predominantly seen in recent times with Patrick Vieira (or Barry if unfit) dropping down to be replaced by Emmanuel Adebayor. Whilst the quartet have not quite clicked of late (two games now without a goal) you have to feel that our best opportunity lies with the creativity and pace that we possess going forward.

The backdrop to the game has again been awash with speculation about Carlos Tevez, but Mancini was fairly bullish in his comments to the press - which may or may not have been questionable given the distraction it could create leading up to the game, but any suggestion that there may be a lack of focus is surely false. The players know the importance of this little spell of games and Mancini will not allow them to divert their attention from the prize at stake.

Historically, we have a good record against Villa, especially so at home and I do suspect that the game will be an open and attacking one rather than a guarded, cautious affair. For that reason, I believe the firepower in our attacking ranks gives us the edge and we will take a further step to the top four with a 3-1 victory.