Arsene Wenger is upbeat about a strong second half of the season showing from an Arsenal side set to capitalise on the return of injured players like Mesut Ozil and Mikel Arteta.
Wenger expects Ozil and Arteta to return to action in January, while Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny are due back imminently to help reignite the Gunners’ quest for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
The Christmas schedule features fixtures against QPR, West Ham and Southampton and Wenger believes Arsenal, who occupy sixth place in the table, will soon be in a position to realise their potential.
“To give absolutely everything in every single game until the end of the season,” replied Wenger when asked to outline his aspirations for his team heading into the festive period on Tuesday.
“I believe that with the injuries coming back we will have a much stronger squad than we had for the past two months.
“I believe 2015 can be very exciting if we manage to get our injured players back and have a good run.
“Finishing in the top four is always the minimum required here. We have the Champions League and we have the FA Cup and we want to come back in a much stronger position in the Premier League, and I think we will.
“Our Christmas is not an easy schedule – it’s a tough schedule. There are three games in a very short period of time and we can make up points.
“It’s a period where you have an opportunity to make points. Our opponents will think that as well, but let’s just put the performances in and capitalise on it.”
Ozil and Arteta are on target for January comebacks from knee and calf injuries and although Ramsey and Koscielny may miss the Boxing Day showdown with hamstring and calf problems, they could both be in action against Southampton on New Year’s Day.
“Ozil will be back at the beginning of January. His rehab has gone well but it took time. He works very hard. He is very focused. Fitness-wise, he is there,” Wenger said.
“Arteta is progressing well. He had a little setback with an ankle problem but it should be very quick now. He will not play before January.
“Ramsey has a chance to be fit for Southampton. The closest at the moment is Koscielny. I believe he’s a bit short for QPR, maybe has a chance for West Ham on Sunday.”
Arsenal are four points adrift of fourth place West Ham and lost further ground on Champions League qualification after conceding an equaliser deep into stoppage time of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool.
Per Mertesacker’s defending for Martin Skrtel’s header has been criticised, but Wenger refuses to single out his Germany World Cup winner for blame.
“I don’t want to go into any individual assessment. I believe Mertesacker gives his best and that on the corner we conceded it was a more organisational and collective problem because no one talks,” Wenger said.
“It is difficult for the players who played at the World Cup. I said many times you don’t see them really before November and that is the case.
“It’s very difficult for them to get the hunger straight away to go Stoke and win. It takes time to settle and to come back to normal life.”