23rd December 2015: Wenger on 2015, likely champions and more

Welcome back and happy Christmas Eve Eve. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Southampton press conference this morning and the big team news is that there is nothing new to report.

We’ll have the same squad as Monday night against Manchester City and barring any late injury concerns, that’ll also mean the starting line-up will be unchanged for the game at St Mary’s on Boxing Day.

As far as our absentees are concerned, Alexis Sanchez and Mikel Arteta are the closest to making a comeback according to the boss, and he also revealed Tomas Rosicky “could be back in full training” in three weeks. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin are of course some way from being able to make a return yet.

Meanwhile, as we approach the end of 2015, Arsene discussed the last 12 months for his team, revealed where he believes the “real pressure” in the Premier League lies, and pointed out that it was far too early in the campaign to be trying to work out who the eventual champions will be. He said:

The only the thing I can say is 2015, if you look back and try to analyse it, we have been consistent. We have had quite a positive year and stabilised our defensive record and improved our record against the strong teams in the Premier League so it looks like we are on the right train going the right way. We have been top of the league in previous years and I think football is pragmatic. Nobody can predict what can happen in the next 17 games for example, and you just want to go with the same attitude and spirit. The real pressure is not to go down. All the rest is positive pressure. I believe that football is down to performance. In the media it quickly becomes a bit intellectual. Who will win the title? Nobody knows. I’ve worked for a long time in the game and nobody can tell you who will win the title. It’s down to being pragmatic, putting the effort in to win your next game and worrying about your performance. That gives you a chance over a longer distance to maybe achieve your goals. At the moment, it’s miles too early to say who will win the Premier League. We’ve played 17 games – we’re not even at halfway.

After we beat City on Monday to extend our lead over them to four points, I must admit I allowed myself to wonder if this could really be the year we end our long wait for the title. But obviously Arsene’s right – it’s still far too early in the season to start getting excited. That said, there are reasons to at least feel confident of our chances.

Chelsea being out of the race already, Manchester United having a p*ss-poor squad and an increasingly unhinged manager, City’s inconsistency, Liverpool and Tottenham being, well, Liverpool and Tottenham – things would appear to be falling in our favour as far as challengers go. On the other hand, our injury list seems ever-lengthening and we still have over half the season still to run. But whatever happens, as Arsene mentions above, we’re on the right track. Whether we can last the course only time will tell …

Finally for today, a few words from the boss on our win over City and the upcoming game against the Saints:

It was an important win for us (against City) but we already had a good confidence level. To win these sorts of game you need to believe you can do it. Overall what came out of the game was a strong team attitude and strong team effort. Everybody put hard work into the game – we got a positive result against a strong team who will fight for the championship, so it was an important night for us. I believe for us, the most important is to focus on ourselves. We have not to speculate too much on any weakness of Southampton. When you look at their team, they have the potential to be a very strong team. We have to convince ourselves that we again need another top-level performance.

Nothing to argue with there at all. So I won’t. Our mental approach to games has been very noticeable for it’s marked improvement this season and whether that’s down to the squad’s average age going up over the last few seasons, the Petr Cech effect, or whatever, it bodes well for our chances of success this season and beyond.

Til tomorrow.

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