Arsene Wenger has warned Arsenal not to let their focus slip when they face out-of-form Southampton in the Premier League on Boxing Day.
Wenger’s side travel to St Mary’s looking for a fourth successive league victory on Saturday as they look to keep pace with leaders Leicester City.
Arsenal trail Claudio Ranieri’s men by two points, while also enjoying a four-point cushion to third-placed Manchester City.
They will hope to at least maintain that points difference against Ronald Koeman’s side, who come into the clash with just one point from their last five games – courtesy of a 1-1 home draw with bottom club Aston Villa.
“I believe for us the most important thing is to focus on ourselves, and not to speculate too much on any weakness of Southampton,” Wenger said.
“When you look at their team they have the potential to be a very strong team. We have to convince ourselves that again we need a top level performance.
“Football is pragmatic. No-one can predict what will happen in the next 17 games. So we want to go in with same attitude, spirit, and earn the right to win the games.”
Wenger’s injury-hit squad will have to continue without the likes of Santi Cazorla (knee), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring) and Jack Wilshere (calf) for the trip, although Sanchez is closing in on his return.
Southampton have received a much-needed boost with the return to fitness of Maarten Stekelenburg, the goalkeeper back in training after missing two matches with a toe injury.
His return could provide the stability at the back that Koeman has been desperate to see in their last five matches, Southampton’s winless streak stretching back to early November.
Facing Arsenal will be a daunting task for the hosts given the impressive recent displays for Wenger’s side, the visitors having beaten title rivals Manchester City 2-1 last time out.
“We know we’re in a difficult situation,” said Koeman. “We had a bad run last year, but not like this one.
“It is always difficult, it means maybe a lack in confidence and belief, but the best medicine is to win the game.
“I think the team is changing a little bit, the team is doubting their qualities and not playing as they can, and that’s all about confidence.
“But they have to realise we can play good football, but we need to score when we have chances, we need to more ruthless than we were against Tottenham. We need to react.”
Key Opta stats:
– Southampton will be looking to win successive league meetings against Arsenal for the first time since April 1988 after winning 2-0 versus the Gunners back in January.
– Arsenal have lost just one of their last 11 Premier League games against Southampton (W6 D4 L1).
– The Gunners have won just one of their last six away league trips to Southampton (W1 D3 L2).
– Arsenal have won the most Premier League points away from home in 2015 so far (38).
– Saints have never failed to win for six consecutive Premier League games under Ronald Koeman, last doing so in December 2013 under Mauricio Pochettino.
– Olivier Giroud has scored in five of Arsenal’s last six Premier League away matches.