QPR should have been despatched with more ease but the sending off of Olivier Giroud and the awarding of a penalty to QPR gave Arsenal the jitters late on. The team become extremely vulnerable when they concede and they have a long way to go to build up the confidence to brush aside setbacks. Arsenal certainly weren't helped by the referee giving QPR a penalty that never was whilst overlooking two penalties for Arsenal at the other end. He did give Arsenal a penalty earlier in the game, but the less said about Alexis Sanchez's attempt from the spot the better.
Against West Ham Arsenal found it hard to get into the game early on, but two late goals in the first half set them up very nicely and they should have gone on to add more after the break. They missed some very good chances to add to their lead though and West Ham pulled a goal back which led to some jitters, but nowhere near as many as in the QPR game. It was a very good win against a West Ham team who were in very good form at home and that performance gives plenty of promise for the upcoming games.
One of the most important factors in the victory over West Ham was the return of Laurent Koscielny from injury to play at the heart of the defence. Arsenal have had their defensive woes far too often this season, but they are a much better unit when Koscielny plays and especially when he plays alongside Per Mertesacker. It looks like he will be fit to keep his place against Southampton and that will be a huge boost for the team. If he has put his injury problems behind him the team will benefit greatly, but I suspect he won't be risked in the FA Cup game with Hull on Sunday.
With Koscielny in the team the only possible change at the back might be Kieran Gibbs coming in on the left for Nacho Monreal. I think Gibbs is a better option at left back with both his defending and attacking being superior to that of Monreal. It's good to see all of the defenders fit together for once, but there is still a need for defensive signings once the window opens.
The options in midfield are still very limited and I think we'll probably see the same midfield as that which started against West Ham even if Tomas Rosicky is fit to return. I wouldn't be surprised if the same players were deployed in attack as long as Danny Welbeck is passed fit to play after picking up a knock against West Ham. If Wekbeck can't play there aren't too many options with Giroud still suspended and Yaya Sanogo not certain to be fit either.
Lukas Podolski could come into the team in a central role or wide on the left or Joel Campbell could possibly make a rare start on the right. If either of them play then I think Alexis will be asked to play a more central role, but I think I would prefer to see Sanogo in the team if he's fit to play. Not only will he give Arsenal an outlet when they're looking for one, but his height could come in useful at defensive set pieces with Giroud out and Welbeck too.
There's also the prospect of Theo Walcott playing from the start, but I would be surprised if he did considering he hasn't started a game in a year. He needs to be reintroduced into the team gradually, but there just hasn't been an opportune moment in recent games with the games so tight. He was in great form when he got injured in the third round of the FA Cup last year and he hopefully has a lot to offer the team in the second half of the season.
Southampton got a very good result at home to Chelsea on Sunday and they defended very well against the league leaders. Chelsea had very few scoring opportunities in the game and I would be surprised if Southampton didn't try to play in a similar fashion against Arsenal. They will keep as many men as possible behind the ball at all times and look to hit Arsenal with a quick break or from a turnover in midfield.
The teams have already met twice this season with a full strength Southampton team putting out a more or less second string Arsenal team at the Emirates in the Capital One Cup and Arsenal winning 1-0 at home in the league a few weeks ago. Southampton had a great start to the season but had a bad run when they played some of the better teams in recent weeks. That run seems to be behind them now with a couple of wins and that draw with Chelsea and they cannot be taken lightly by any team.
They're a place above Arsenal in the league and a win would see Arsenal move up to fourth after they overtook West Ham on Sunday. Arsenal are only three points behind third placed United and I think that third spot is a reasonable target for them this season. If they're going to show the strength needed to catch United this is exactly the type of game they need to win.
Arsenal still have some very good and very important players to return from injury and plenty of money to spend in the transfer window too. If this season is to be judged as some sort of success then I think third place is a must as well as a good attempt to defend the FA Cup and at least a last eight spot in the Champions League. They're all targets well within the team's grasp and they will be judged on whether they achieve those targets at the end of the season.
I think they can start the calendar year in the right manner and take the three points in what promises to be a very tight game. As always Alexis could be the man to make the difference for Arsenal while Santi Cazorla's contributions in recent games have been so important. With the two of them on their game I think Arsenal might just have the edge they need. Of course they will have to defend in depth and with everything they have at times, but I always feel a lot more confident of them doing so when Koscielny plays. It promises to be an interesting and exciting new year for Arsenal and maybe even a relatively successful one too.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.