By Nick Teale
Aston Villa are a team with top-four aspirations. Their trip to Arsenal on Sunday represents another test of their credentials but so far this season, they've passed every test with flying colours.
Victories away at Liverpool and Manchester United as well as a home win against Chelsea have seen Martin O'Neill's side climb to third place in the Premier League, level on points with the Gunners.
So will this be one of Arsène Wenger's toughest home tests of the season? We spoke to Mat Kendrick of the Birmingham Evening Mail to find out.
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"I don't see any reason why Villa can't beat Arsenal. We've started calling it completing the Grand Slam because they've beaten Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United already. They went to Arsenal last season and won 2-0 and I think that result gave them the belief last season that they could break into the top four. It wasn't to be as Villa collapsed and Arsenal came back well."
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
"Villa have got a lot of confidence and a lot more strength in depth and a lot more belief that they can stay the distance this time round. Everybody seems to be beating everybody else this season and I think it's a case of the four teams who mess up the least have got the greatest chance of finishing in the top four this time round."
"It was a big loss last season when they lost Martin Laursen, who was their kind of defensive block, and didn't really replace him until the summer when the manager bought Richard Dunne. The jury was out at first as to how good Dunne would be but he's been absolutely immense. And James Collins who they signed from West Ham has been equally commanding so they've got a solid platform now.
"Stewart Downing arrived on crutches so there were a few eyebrows raised about that but Martin O'Neill said don't judge him until he's fit. Downing has allowed Ashley Young to go to the right wing giving him a new lease of life and James Milner has moved into the centre and Villa finally look like they've come close to replacing Gareth Barry."
THE ONE TO WATCH
"Gabriel Agbonlahor is lightning quick and when he first burst on to the scene that's probably all he had to his game. But now he's a much more polished performer and has scored eight League goals this year including the winner at Old Trafford earlier this month. He's worked hard in the gym over the summer and his touch seems sharper. Perhaps going to the World Cup might be a bit too soon but he's certainly a vastly improved player over the last two seasons."
THE MAN IN CHARGE
"Before last season O'Neill was walking on water and could do no wrong but he tested the fans' patience in February when he sent a weak squad to play CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Cup. Villa lost that and were dumped out of the competition and on the back of it the top four hopes also collapsed. So his halo did slip a little bit but since that the way they've started this season has restored his popularity."
"They'll go to Emirates Stadium in a rich vein of form and they do believe they can go there and win. Last season they lined up in a 4-5-1 with Agbonlahor leading the attack on his own. That worked quite effectively but this season he's reverted to the more traditional 4-4-2. Emile Heskey is the only injury doubt for Sunday's game so it will probably be John Carew and Agbonlahor up front with Young and Downing on the wings and Milner and Sylvian Petrov in the centre."