This late kick off sees the Gunners take on fellow title contenders Manchester City at The Emirates – and with many experts and journalists claiming this game may go a long way to seeing who will take the initiative in the race for the title.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has overseen yet another injury crisis but slowly and surely, players are slowly returning to fitness. In recent weeks, central midfield pairing Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla have been ruled out until after the New Year, but thankfully, Aaron Ramsey’s timely return has seen Arsenal not suffer too greatly. Along with the Welsh midfielder, the Gunners have also been boosted by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott coming back into action.
It is Ramsey, however, who has made the difference since his inclusion in his preferred role in the centre of the park. His cohesion with playmaker Mesut Ozil and striker Olivier Giroud has been pivotal in Arsenal’s recent consistent form – and his all-action style may just make the difference. Arsene Wenger will be more than aware of the need for a good start against a top quality side – and the bookies believe that will be the case.
In terms of line-up, the Gunners have another player coming back into the fold – and Alexis Sanchez may yet be included into the side. Arsene Wenger when questioned in his press conference, stated that Alexis has returned to the country after a recuperative trip to his native Chile and is back in full training. Whether this match has come too soon for even the herculean levels of fitness that Sanchez possesses is unclear but he will be involved in the matchday squad. The other spots in the line-up seem to pick themselves and why tinker with a winning side? So expect Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Mesut Ozil to supplement Frenchman Olivier Giroud in the attack, with the revitalised Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini in the engine room. In defence, Petr Cech will be hoping this will be the game he can claim to be the most effective goalkeeper in the history of the Premier League by claiming the record for the most amount of clean sheets, with Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal making up the rest of the backline.
For Manuel Pelegrini and his City side, he will be hoping that talismanic striker Sergio Aguero can make the starting line-up, with his match fitness in doubt. Club Captain Vincent Kompany looks to miss out, as well as Pablo Zabaleta, Samir Nasri and Fernando. Much hinges on the Citizen’s other power players – Yaya Toure scored a late winner in their last game versus Swansea City and the Ivorian can swing a game with a burst into the box. A defence with comprising two of Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis will need to perform far better than in recent weeks.
Arsenal have a great recent record against the blue half of Manchester – unbeaten in the last four games. This home game could provide a telltale clue as to who will go into the New Year with a points and mental advantage. If Arsenal hope to vanquish City, then Mesut Ozil will be the man who may fire them to glory. His one-man quest to assist the most goals in a season continues and with Theo Walcott providing more runs into the box for the German to find with a laser-guided pass, this could be the particular arrow that pierces a shaky City defence. If Martin Demichelis starts, then expect Walcott to dwell on the shoulder of the veteran Argentinean.
So, the two current favourites for the League title face off. It isn’t merely three points that are the reward for the victor. The team who finish the ninety minutes on top will go into the festive schedule with confidence riding high, but the loser may just find stumbling at this hurdle may lead to further errors. Much to play for and with the attacking intent of both of these sides, a high scoring and entertaining affair could be on the cards.