‘Tis the season to be jolly, but that will be a whole lot easier should Arsenal beat Manchester City on Monday evening.
Already a point clear of the Citizens, winning and closing the gap on Leicester City would be an enormous boost ahead of a busy Christmas period. Arsenal’s record in these big games has improved drastically over the past 12 months, another performance to remember would be huge.
Speaking on Thursday, Arsène Wenger insisted the importance of this game can’t be underestimated.
“It looks to be very tight,” he said of the title race. “We have played 16 games and the top team is on 35 points, so it means that the Premier League could be decided at around 80 points.
“If you look at the results it looks as though the consistency will be the main priority in this league because every week you are surprised by the results.
“It is a massive game [on Monday]. When we play at home you want to win because we are ambitious and we feel we have the chance to come out in a strong position after Christmas.”
Facing Bournemouth and Newcastle at home (and Southampton away) over the next few games, Arsenal must feel they have a huge opportunity to pull away from City, who are their main title rivals.
Alexis could be back after missing the last three games with a hamstring issue, but it would be a risk to start him.
No other players seem ready to return, unless Mikel Arteta is closer to fitness than we have been told.
Possible XI: Čech; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Walcott, Özil, Campbell; Giroud.
After a bit of a blip, Manchester City were back to winning ways against Borussia Mönchengladbach and then Swansea City.
More bad news for Arsenal: Sergio Agüero has been training all week. On the other han, Vincent Kompany is still out.
City are great going forward but, since starting the season well, have recently struggled to keep clean sheets. The absence of Kompany has left them incredibly vulnerable at the back, with none of the defenders asserting much authority.
Former Arsenal man Bacary Sagna will be back at the Emirates Stadium and playing against the Gunners for the first time.
Possible XI: Hart; Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Touré; De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling; Agüero.
There are still doubters. ‘Can Arsenal win the big games?’ is a common question, despite wins against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United (twice), Chelsea and Bayern Munich over the course of the last 12 months.
A win on Monday wouldn’t put Arsenal top of the league, but it would put them four points clear of the favourites to be crowned champions in May. That would be a huge, and a very welcome Christmas present.
With the Premier League so open, this may well be Arsenal’s best chance to win the title in a very long time. ‘Tis the season. Hopefully.