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Terry Neill calls for a victory to turn heat on Villa

PUBLISHED: 15:21 12 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:01 07 September 2010

Terry Neill believes Arsenal could deal Aston Villa a massive psychological blow if they leapfrog them in the Premier League table on Saturday. Three points against Blackburn at The Emirates will see the Gunners move back into the top four on goal differe

Terry Neill believes Arsenal could deal Aston Villa a massive psychological blow if they leapfrog them in the Premier League table on Saturday.

Three points against Blackburn at The Emirates will see the Gunners move back into the top four on goal difference at Villa's expense.

Martin O'Neill's side could regain their position just over 24 hours later when they host Tottenham at Villa Park.

But Villa will be aware the rejuvenated Gunners, unbeaten on domestic league duty since November 22, are closing in on them.

"I think Villa's recent draw with Stoke, being pegged back to 2-2 after leading 2-0 with less than five minutes to go, could have really hurt them," former Arsenal boss Neill told Ham&High Series Sport.

"The fact Arsenal are now getting players back bodes well. Knowing Martin [O'Neill] like I do, the Stoke City result in particular - a 2-2 draw - will have knocked the hell out of him.

"He put on a brave face, but he was not a happy man.

"Arsenal now look like they are on the up and a win over Blackburn could be a significant result for the Gunners' season - and for Villa's.

"But, don't think [Blackburn manager] Sam Allardyce will make it easy for us.

"He's a shrewd guy and his team need points. I hope, and expect, us to win, but I also hope the fans show some patience if it does not go entirely our way."

Neill is also perplexed at the unprecedented criticism which is has come Arsene Wenger's way this season, with Arsenal already out of the title race and even dropping out of the top four since the New Year.

But with Eduardo and Theo Walcott returning to bolster his misfiring attack - and more to come - Neill is adamant Wenger's policy of promoting the club's youngsters will be vindicated.

In fact, he has some harsh words for Arsenal followers who have called for Wenger to be axed.

"Idiots," said Neill, who has never hidden his admiration for the Frenchman. "Only idiots would get restless. Listen, Arsene doesn't need me to defend him because he has done it all.

"He's the envy of the football world, one of the truly great figures in world football. The only reason Arsenal have fallen away a little this season is because he has had to contend with a truly horrendous injury list.

"That's not a weak excuse, it's a fact. But they are getting some key players back - at last - and, let us not forget, they haven't lost in the league for nearly four months.

"With two months of the season to go, I am extremely optimistic about things. If we had not had all those injuries we would still have been very much in the title race.

"You cannot legislate for the injuries we've had. Any manager at any club would have struggled with what Arsene has had to put up with."

Neill, who spent 16 years with the club as player and manager, is adamant Wenger will bring more silverware to the club in years to come.

"I know people get bored hearing it, but we all must look at the big picture.

"The board and the manager know it and the fans must recognise it. Arsene has a long-term policy which will, eventually, bear rich fruits. Our foundations are now rock solid and the system we have from youth level upwards is magnificent.

"Other clubs have huge debts but ours is manageable and, on top of that, we are returning very good profits each year. Financially, we are in a fantastic position compared to our rivals."

Neill is so impressed, he believes the answer to Britain's recession, a devalued pound and growing dole queues, lies in the depths of Arsenal's Hertfordshire training ground.

"You know, I half joke about it, but the more I think about it Gordon Brown could do a lot worse than drop Arsene a line at his office - Labour are doing awful in the polls and Arsene might just be able to help him out," he added.

"Forget Mandelson, get Arsene in. Mervyn King at the Bank of England should also employ Arsene.

"He has an economics degree, as we all know, but he certainly seems to know about success on a budget.

"Maybe the Bank of England could hire Arsene for a couple of hours each Thursday afternoon."

Wenger may laugh at his predecessor's gushing praise, but he does agree Arsenal could make a huge impact in the final two months of the season, with trips to Manchester United and Liverpool to come, along with the visit of Chelsea.

"We have many targets in front of us. It now depends on how well we do until the rest of the season," Wenger said this week.

"We know every game demands a big performance now because we cannot afford to slip up.

"It is exciting because this group is extremely determined and it has been a pleasure to work with them.

"They have not always been rewarded and I want them to. We now go into the time where it matters.

"We are going into the final sprint and for us it's important to keep all our targets alive.

"Slowly we have players coming back and that can, of course, be decisive."

editorial@hamhigh.co.uk

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