After winning through to a fifth round FA Cup game at home to Liverpool it's back to Premier League action for Arsenal with a game away to Southampton. Arsenal are still on top of the league, but they have both City and Chelsea breathing down their necks. They have won their last five league games in a row and need to keep winning to hold off the challenge of the chasing pack.
Arsenal play away to Southampton on Tuesday night with Chelsea and City not playing their games until the following night. A win would pressure on both of them ahead of their games with Chelsea playing at home to West Ham and City travelling to Spurs. While Chelsea will be expected to win easily enough City have a tough task against an in form Spurs team.
Arsenal have the chance to open up a bit of a lead at the top with City and Chelsea playing each other at the weekend and Arsenal at home to struggling Crystal Palace. I'm not for a moment suggesting that Arsenal will have it easy against either Southampton or Palace, but they are games which they can and probably should win. Southampton had a very good start to the season but have fallen away in the last couple of months and Palace are only just outside the relegation zone.
Southampton's demise began with a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal and they were a little unlucky on the day to lose. It hasn't gone too well for them since then, but they have continued to play a very good brand of football both home and away. They haven't been thrashed by anybody and have got some good results at home in particular. They won't be afraid to have a go at Arsenal tonight and Arsenal will have to play well to get a result.
There's some good team news with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen all returning to the squad, but Jack Wilshere is a bit of an injury doubt. Wilshere and Santi Cazorla have been the outstanding players for Arsenal in the last few weeks with others out injured and have shown the value of Arsenal's strength in depth in midfield. Arsenal have won seven games in a row in all competitions despite having had their fair share of injuries and many of those injured players are now returning to the squad.
Besides Ramsey, Arteta and Vermaelen we have also seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, Kieran Gibbs and Nicklas Bendtner return in the last week. It means Arsene Wenger has plenty of players to choose from and a bit of headache trying to pick his strongest side. I think a lot of the team picks itself, but his biggest decisions will be which players get the nod in midfield.
For me Mathieu Flamini will probably play the defensive role as Arteta has missed a few games and he will probably have Mesut Ozil and Wilshere (if he's fit) in front of him. I can see Cazorla playing in one of the wide roles with Chamberlain on the other side, as it looks like Podolski is still being eased back into the team with his injury problems not fully behind him. I don't think Ramsey will be played so soon after coming back from injury and with so many big games coming up in February.
February promises to be a crucial month for Arsenal's chances in all three competetions this season with a tough FA Cup draw at home to Liverpool and the toughest Champions League draw of all against Bayern Munich. Added to that there's league games against Liverpool and United and I get the feeling February could be the month which defines Arsenal's season. If they can make it through to March still in contention in two competitions it won't have gone too badly, but of course I want them to progress in all three.
They cannot afford to drop points to Southampton or Palace with so many crucial games coming up and they need to concentrate on the job in hand. In the last few weeks Arsenal have being doing enough to win games, but not an awful lot more sometimes. It's time for them to step up the level of their game and gently release that handbrake which has been too much of a feature in recent weeks.
This current squad has the skill and determination to really achieve something this season and the time to prove it is fast approaching. The trophy cabinet has been bare for far too long, but this squad have the capability to fill it with some nice shiny silverware. They're going to face some huge tests in the next month and they need to beat Southampton to set themselves up in the best possible position for those tests.
Arsenal have been very good away from home this season with eight wins in their 11 games and 23 goals scored in those games. Only Liverpool have scored more goals away from home and the only teams to beat Arsenal on the road so far were the two Manchester clubs. They have actually scored more goals away from home and maybe that's because teams aren't quite so defensive when they're at home to Arsenal.
This squad has fought hard to get results when it has been needed and bounced back quickly from any setbacks. They have shown the mental strength that genuine contenders need and have been able to introduce players from the bench to change the game when needed at times. No matter how well Southampton might play tonight they won't get anything out of the game if Arsenal are at their best.
I think Arsenal will be at their best and the players who are picked will know they will have to perform well to keep their places. I can see them scoring two or three goals and I wouldn't be surprised if Southampton got one too. As long as they get the three points I won't be overly concerned with the performance, but it would be great to see the players put on a performance to show they cannot be discounted.
In other news the new kit deal with Puma was announced and it will kick in on July 1st for the new season. It has been reported Arsenal will earn £150 million over the next five years from the deal and it's certainly a big boost to the clubs finances. There are images of the new Arsenal kit for next season doing the rounds on Twitter in particular and I saw the one below on Arseblog News.
It's not the worst Arsenal kit I've seen by a long shot and I would be happy enough to see the players in it next season.
The rumours of Julian Draxker joining Arsenal still won't go away although if it is to happen it may be in the summer and not in the current transfer window. He's certainly an excellent player and his arrival this month would be a huge boost to the teams chances of winning a trophy. If the rumours are true he will cost a little less than Ozil did and he would become the sixth German player at the club.
I'd love to see him sign right now, but I've had a feeling all along that Arsenal wouldn't bring anyone in during this transfer window. I hope I'm wrong and the club can unveil him on Friday, but I doubt it. Then again I would never have believed Ozil would have signed and the club managed to pull off that move right at the end of the summer transfer window.
For now I'll be happy with three points against Southampton followed by a win over Palace at the weekend, but we can always dream of more big name signings.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.