Evening all. So after Leicester City and Manchester City played out a pretty uneventful 0-0 draw last night, Arsenal will enter the new year as league leaders for the second time in three years. Hopefully, this time around, we’ll still be top when it matters in May.
The second half of our Premier League campaign begins on Saturday of course, when we welcome Newcastle United to Emirates stadium and Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference this morning as we build up to the game. He provided the latest injury news as well as discussing potential January transfers, plus much more besides.
But first to team news and the boss revealed that “we might have (Mathieu) Flamini back”, and Alexis Sanchez is still unavailable but could be ready to return for the game at Sunderland a week on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta is back in training but is lacking match practice so won’t play against Newcastle at the weekend, Tomas Rosicky is still three weeks away from resuming training, Jack Wilshere “could make it back for February”, and everybody else in the squad selected for Monday’s win over Bournemouth should be available against the Magpies.
Of course we could also have a new signing in Basel’s Mohamed Elneny vying for selection, should his transfer go through as strongly reported over the last few days, but Arsene stopped shy of confirming the deal, saying:
Unfortunately we cannot announce anything at the moment about this player [Elneny] because nothing has been concluded.
Given how guarded the boss usually is over potential transfers, that’s as good as him confirming the Egyptian midfielder is an Arsenal player. Arsene also repeated that he’d “be busy” when asked how active he’d be in he window, which suggests Elneny won’t be the only new arrival next month. But one man who could be heading out of the club is right-back Mathieu Debuchy, after Arsene said:
It’s not impossible [that Debuchy will leave]. I’m happy if he stays but we’ll see.
Considering how vocal Debuchy has been about playing regularly in order to force his way into France’s squad for the European Championships next summer, a move away makes sense providing we can find a replacement. Hopefully we won’t rely on Calum Chambers to be Hector Bellerin’s deputy because I’m still unconvinced he’d be adequate cover. But as Arsene says, we’ll see.
Moving on from transfers now, and as we approach the end of 2015, Arsene also gave his assessment on Arsenal’s form over the calendar year, pointing out his side have matured, enjoyed success in winning a second successive FA Cup, and are well positioned to compete for this season’s Premier League crown. He said:
From January 1 to December 31 we were consistent and have improved our results. The team has grown in stature, is more mature, more reliable and we won the FA Cup and the Community Shield. We are in a strong position in the Premier League so hopefully 2016 will be better. We are mature enough and we have the requested quality to fight and compete. The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful. After that, if somebody has been better than us, we will accept it, but we want to fight to show that we have a chance. The public opinion is not always stable, it changes a lot. It is always linked with the final result. We have to rise above that and show that we can deal with it. I believe we have to be guided by playing better football and being a real team in every game and show that we can be competitive.
And the boss followed up by highlighting it’s still far too early to call the eventual champions and suggesting several teams were still in contention, with Manchester City remaining the favourites because of their expensively-assembled, or as he called it, “glamorous”, squad:
We can have great solidarity in every single game and after that we have a chance. You cannot rule us out after 19 games. We have a chance and we want to fight for it. Everybody wants to predict who will win it at halfway but even for the most intelligent people [that is] impossible. Mathematically you cannot rule out anyone down to Manchester United. Can Liverpool still fight for it? I don’t know. We have a difficult programme and we have to focus on ourselves more than we have to look at who will be our main threat. We have to focus on our performances. City are the favourites still because they might have the most glamorous potential and they are not far behind. After that, Tottenham are not far behind and Leicester are still there after 19 games. You have to respect that and they also have no European competition. The gap is not big enough, nine points is not big enough to say that anyone is out of it.
It’s hard to argue with any of that really. City were my tip at the start of the season and although I think we have a great chance if we can get some of our injured players back fit and add a quality player or two in the transfer window over the next month or so, they remain most likely champions in my eyes.
Obviously my heart says Arsenal but at this stage my brain’s still playing spoilsport and reminding me Manuel Pellegrini’s men have the deeper squad in term’s of quality, plus a core of players who have won two of the last four Premier League titles. They have that all-important experience of lasting the distance players that have won it often talk about.
Whatever happens though, it’ll be intriguing to see how this crazy campaign concludes.