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O'Neill reacts with anger to 'ridiculous' Wenger's 'appalling' long ball insult

Martin O'Neill accused his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger of making "ridiculous statements" after he branded Aston Villa a long-ball team.

Wenger made his comments in the aftermath of the Gunners goalless draw at Villa, which caused them to lose ground to Chelsea in the Premier League title race.

The normally placid O'Neill was clearly incensed when the comments were relayed to him at the post-game press conference last night.

He said: "If that is what he (Wenger) saw tonight, that is as ridiculous a statement as I've heard. He's made a few ridiculous statements in his time here and that's probably as good as any.

"That is only an annoyance at the end of it all. Anyone who saw the game wouldn't take that viewpoint.

"But it is an appalling insult."

While Arsenal started their schedule from hell -- they now face Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool -- by consolidating third place despite losing two more players to injury, Villa have collected only two points from four games, a run that started with a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal in December, and at the same time maintained their bid to reach the English national stadium on two fronts.

Villa may not have scored in their three previous league games, stretching back to that sobering afternoon at Christmas when Cesc Fabregas produced a match-winning 27-minute cameo at the Emirates Stadium, but they have been laying waste to allcomers in the cups. In four victories, O'Neill's side have scored 13 times to reach the Carling Cup final and the last 16 of the FA Cup.

It is in the Premier League, however, that O'Neill ultimately wants Villa to put down their marker. To add the scalp of Arsenal to those of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United in the same season would have confirmed that Villa possess the capabilities to beat the traditional 'big four' on a given day.

Wenger said: "It was a very difficult game, because they stopped us from playing when we had the ball and when they had the ball, because they played a very long-ball game and closed us down.

"We didn't always find our passing game, and we know when we come here what you get and we were not disappointed.

"They play a very efficient English game with long balls and are very physical, and they did do that very well and they are a good side on the counterattack."

In fairness to Wenger, he also lavished praise on certain aspects of Villa's performance and believes they will challenge for a top-four spot.

He said: "I hope they have a good run now against all the other teams because they are quality, are well organised, have a strong spirit, and are very strong physically.

"The midfield four of Milner, Young, Downing and Petrov don't stop running and all these players can score goals so I think they have a good chance.

"Although Villa were physical, it was not a dirty game. It was a committed game. It was a fair game but not dirty at all. For me, it was physical in a positive way.

"They were committed, go for the balls and it is part of football."

But it is his initial comments which angered O'Neill whose side have now failed to score in their last four league games.

To make matters worse for Wenger, defender Thomas Vermaelen suffered a suspected broken leg and Eduardo is out of Sunday's game with Manchester United with a hamstring injury.

Wenger said: "We don't know about Thomas. We have to have an X-ray. He is on crutches. It's a fibula. Is it just a nerve or a bone broken, we have to check that. Eduardo has a hamstring strain, a small one, but for Sunday he will be out."