So here we go. Four months of club football without the irritating interruption of an international break and we begin by travelling to West Brom tomorrow afternoon looking to maintain our fine Premier League form.
We’ve won five of our last six in the league since succumbing to a Mike Dean-inspired Chelsea two months ago, and glancing at our upcoming fixture-list, we now have a great opportunity to rack up the points before we entertain Manchester City a few days before Christmas.
After our trip to the Hawthorns, we play Norwich (a), Sunderland (h) and Aston Villa (a), so 12 points from 12 is far from unfeasible. If we do manage to take the maximum tally available from those 4 games, hope of a first title success since 2004 might start morphing into excited expectancy.
Looking at City’s next four fixtures in the league, they begin by hosting Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool tomorrow and Southampton next weekend, before travelling to Stoke and hosting Swansea – on paper a much tougher run than ours, before our meeting with them on December 21.
We had the team news yesterday of course and Hector Bellerin’s return to fitness should see him come straight back into the side at the expense of Mathieu Debuchy. We have question marks hanging over both Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud’s involvement, due to the emotional toll of the tragic events of a week ago in Paris, but I’m expecting both to play seeing as they were involved in training today.
Elsewhere, the team picks itself, with Joel Campbell retaining his starting berth on the right, unless Kieran Gibbs’ goalscoring substitute appearance against Spurs two weeks ago has convinced Arsene Wenger he deserves a start.
I highly doubt it though, as it would mean either asking Alexis Sanchez to swap wings to the right, or playing Gibbs as a right-sided attacker. More likely is that Arsene will be encouraging Gibbs to build on his goal in the north London derby by offering a genuine attacking threat from the bench again, if needed.
As for our hosts, they are struggling to score goals so far this season and come into the match with the joint-fewest in the division. Yet in Salomon Rondon and Saido Berahino, they have two strikers of good quality so we’ll need to be mindful of their threat. When asked about the former, the boss said:
He’s a fighter. He has a physical ability to resist the challenges of the centre backs and he has a good nose in the box to be where you have to be.
One major reason I think we can be confident in our defending against Rondon and co tomorrow is the return of Bellerin. Assuming Koscielny plays, we’ll be at full strength back there, with a nicely-rested and hopefully re-energised Francis Coquelin protecting them with typically tenacious defensive midfield play.
And Nacho Monreal has been praising his compatriot Bellerin’s meteoric rise at the club, saying:
He’s a young player, only 20 years old, but he plays like a guy who is 30. He’s very mature and he plays with a lot of confidence. He trusts in himself and that’s very good for us. Since he’s started to play the level of the team is improving so we are very proud of him. When I was 20 like him, I was scared every time I had to play at the beginning, but he’s not. That’s the secret for him, that he’s so confident in himself. He knows what he has to do, he goes on to the pitch and he does it. It looks easy but it’s not easy. He’s only 20, he has a long way to go, he has to play more games but obviously everything he has done is brilliant. He just needs to keep going in the same way. I’m 100 per cent sure he will play for the Spanish national team. I don’t know when as that’s the question. At this moment there are another two right backs like Juanfran and Dani Carvajal. Hector is still playing for the under-21s but if he carries on, he will play with the senior team 100 per cent.
If there’s a better right-back in the Premier League than Bellerin at the moment, then he’s doing a fine job of going undetected. The point Nacho makes about our cockney Catalan’s maturity is, along with his searing pace obviously, the most startling thing about the 20-year-old in my opinion.
When he’s been faced with tough opponents and struggled initially, he’s had the intelligence to adapt his game mid-match, to turn the tide of the duel in his favour. It’s great to have him back and after a depressing last seven days in he context of the wider world, it feels great to have the Premier League back.
COME ON ARSENAL!