Villa target N'Zogbia to widen midfield options

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The Independent Online

Aston Villa have expressed an interest in Newcastle United's French midfielder Charles N'Zogbia, whose future at the club has been in doubt despite having signed a five-year contract last year.

An inquiry about the availability of the 22-year-old has been made to Newcastle by Villa, who play in the Uefa Cup away at Hamburg tonight. N'Zogbia plays on the left side of midfield, a position occupied at Villa by the in-form Ashley Young. However, it is understood that Martin O'Neill regards N'Zogbia as capable of playing across the midfield and the Frenchman fits the profile of the young, pacy kind of player who have made Villa resurgent this season.

Newcastle's temporary manager, Joe Kinnear, denied suggestions last month that N'Zogbia, whose contract lasts until 2012, was unsettled and wanted to return to France to play for Paris St-Germain. He is a highly-regarded, if erratic, performer but would also be a candidate for sale should funds need to be raised to buy players in the transfer window.

O'Neill is unlikely to start with his full-strength team tonight against Martin Jol's side as both clubs are in the final 32 of the competition. That means there should be a chance for the players on the margins of the first-team squad such as goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Nigel Reo-Coker, Marlon Harewood, Nathan Delfouneso, Craig Gardner, Zat Knight, Nicky Shorey, Isaiah Osbourne and Moustapha Salifou.

The Villa defender Curtis Davies said his club believed they could beat Arsenal to fourth place this year with the Boxing Day visit of Arsène Wenger's team to the Emirates as crucial. "We are a good team, we have played against the top teams in this country and not done too badly this season, winning at Arsenal and drawing at home with Liverpool and Manchester United.

"I expected Arsenal to be pushing for first or second place – let alone fourth – but the way things have gone over the last couple of months since we have beaten them at the Emirates, I feel they are there for catching up. They didn't have a good result at Middlesbrough at the weekend and we have got to keep winning games. We have closed the goal difference down," said Davies.

"It is equal now. If we can keep going and keep scoring goals, I don't see why we can't finish above them. If we can go to West Ham at the weekend and get a result there, then Arsenal at home will be a good test to see if we can put some daylight between us and them."