Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has urged his Premier League leaders not to let their focus wander as they begin 2016 against Newcastle United on Saturday.
Wenger’s men top the table on goal difference from Leicester City and head into the new year on the back of an impressive 2015, which has seen them win the most points (81) and matches (25) in the division.
Arsenal have been top four times going into the new year during the Premier League era but have closed out their title challenge on just one of those occasions in 2002.
“Being top on goal difference doesn’t make a big difference, it is just down to how well you play,” Wenger said. “Your performances dictate all that and you have to be guided by your performances.
“After that it is reassuring to know that if your performances are right you do not need bad results from somebody else. That is one less stress.
“Once you are first you can just focus on your performance. I heard last night the cliche that nobody wants to win this league.
“I can say as well that everybody wants to win it. And if you were in the game you would think that’s not the case – everybody wants to win it but it’s difficult.”
Wenger could have Mathieu Flamini (ankle) back, although Mikel Arteta (fitness) and Alexis Sanchez (hamstring) remain out as Arsenal target a ninth consecutive Premier League win over struggling Newcastle, who sit third-bottom after back-to-back defeats to Everton and West Brom.
While Arsenal have enjoyed a strong 2015, Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren is eager for the club to move on from a chaotic year on Tyneside.
John Carver narrowly kept them in the top flight following Alan Pardew’s departure a year ago, but Newcastle have continued to struggle under McClaren despite fleeting bright spots such as recent wins over Liverpool and Tottenham.
Newcastle are two points off safety but McClaren – who may be without goalkeeper Rob Elliott (illness) but could have Emmanuel Riviere (knee) and Rolando Aarons (foot) available for the trip to north London – maintains their season can be rescued.
“That is the first half of the season gone. 2015 is about to end and [that is] good. We cannot wait for the next year. It has not been a good year,” he said.
“It has not been good enough and that is why we are in the bottom three. That is where we are realistic and we need to do something about it. And we will do. There are still 19 games to go.”
Key Opta Stats:
– Olivier Giroud has scored eight goals in seven Premier League games against Newcastle.
– Newcastle failed to muster manage a single shot on target and had just one attempt overall when they played Arsenal at St James’ Park earlier this season.
– Arsenal have dropped just two points in their last seven Premier League home games – winning 19 of a possible 21 points at the Emirates Stadium in this period.
– Newcastle have scored just six goals in their last 15 Premier League away trips.