Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has written off Aston Villa's Barclays Premier League title challenge - but admits Martin O'Neill's men are a genuine threat to the top four.
Villa are up to third in the table, five points behind leaders Liverpool, and their run has sparked debate over how long they can stay there after a first half of the season that included a win at the Emirates Stadium.
That still has not persuaded Wenger to believe Villa can remain within sight of the summit in the new year. "They are mathematically in there but if you asked me if they are going to win the title I would say no because they are other teams who to me look better equipped," Wenger said.
He added: "For a place in the top four, they are a threat."
Should O'Neill do the double over Wenger when they face each other on Boxing Day, Villa will be six points ahead of Arsenal at the halfway stage of the campaign.
Wenger insists Arsenal still have title aspirations, although they appear the most likely out of the traditional top four heavyweights to make way for Villa's youngsters in the Champions League places.
The latest blow to their season came this week when skipper Cesc Fabregas was injured, ruling him out until the final month of the campaign after suffering a partial tear to his medial knee ligament. The only good news is that he will not require surgery.
The 21-year-old, who travelled to Barcelona to consult specialist doctor Ramon Cugat, told Marca: "After consulting with the best doctor possible, we've decided not to operate.
"If it would have been necessary it would have been the first thing I would have done, but the doctor recommended to me not to do it because I'm young and the meniscus is not damaged."
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