“You always feel more comfortable when everybody is here for the whole week because you have a fair time to prepare for the games. But when you play for something important like the top of the table everybody focuses quickly again.
“I think the players are in the mood of ‘look we have put the qualifiers of the World Cup behind us now – let’s focus on the Club’.”
And it will be that way until Easter is in sight.
Arsenal: Flamini (suspended) Diaby (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Podolski (hamstring)
Southampton: Ramirez (doubt – leg), Do Prado (knee), Cork (ankle)
Arsenal went into the last international break of 2013 top of the Premier League table but on the back of a disappointing defeat at Manchester United.
Arsène Wenger’s side seemed to be negotiating their perennial ‘nasty November’ in some style before they fell to Robin van Persie’s goal at Old Trafford. It hardly derailed the Arsenal express but it has left them running in a lower gear for the past fortnight.
“It was a very big disappointment to lose at Manchester United,” said Wenger. “Overall it was a positive week because we played Liverpool then went to Dortmund and Manchester United. We had two wins out of three. But I think at least a draw was in our potential and we want to learn to make the maximum of what we create. On the day we did not do that. Manchester United had two shots on target and we lost 1-0. That has not to be repeated.”
Especially on Saturday against a Southampton side who, on paper at least, could present as much trouble to Arsenal as Man United.
Mauricio Pochettino was a somewhat controversial successor to Nigel Adkins last season but he has undoubtedly improved the south-coast side.
We’ll need to be very creative to get around their defence. They have a good team pressure and, to get out of that, the quality of our game will be very important.
Southampton will arrive at Emirates Stadium three points adrift of their hosts having conceded just five goals in their first 11 Premier League games. They won at Anfield, drew at Old Trafford and have only afforded their opposition 31 shots on goal – the best in the division. This has the hallmarks of another game of wafer-thin margins.
Wenger admits to being “a little bit” surprised by the Saints’ march this term.
“I expected them to have a good season,” he said. “But I didn’t expect them to be as high up as they are.
“Pochettino has done extremely well because he came into a little bit of a stormy atmosphere. He has calmed things down quickly and convinced everybody that he is quality.
“They have a solid combination of good youth, teamwork and good scouting in the lower divisions. If you think about it they have Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert in the national team. Then you can speak about Luke Shaw coming in there later and Nathan Clyne maybe. There’s Ward-Prowse as well. On top of that, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain came from there. It shows the quality of their work and they have to be praised for that.
“This season, they have a very good record and have played difficult games.
“We’ll need to be very creative to get around their defence. They have a good team pressure and, to get out of that, the quality of our game will be very important.”
Wenger has Walcott available for the first time since September 18. However Mathieu Flamini is suspended after picking up a fifth booking.