The English Premier League resumes on Boxing Day after six weeks break due to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and leaders, Arsenal, would be hoping to continue from where they stopped before the break. The Gunners resume their title charge with the visit of West Ham at the Emirate and can open up an eight-point lead with victory in north London, ahead of Manchester City playing two days later
Arsenal entered the World Cup-enforced break unbeaten in eight Premier League matches and five points clear at the top of the table and, even with an injury to starting striker Gabriel Jesus, they can be backed to pick up from where they left off on Boxing Day.
The Gunners have hardly put a foot wrong this season, with Mikel Arteta’s long-term plan finally coming to fruition in flawless fashion. They have the joint-best defensive record (11) and the second-best attacking record (33), leaving them five points clear of defending champions Manchester City.
Their most recent run of results is perhaps most impressive, with four wins from five and a clean sheet in all of those victories. They have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs already this season and their only defeat of the campaign came away to Manchester United.
West Ham, by contrast, have endured a shocking season so far and will be hoping the break has rejuvenated what was looking a laboured squad.
David Moyes’ men have lost four of their last five league games, failing to score in three of those defeats and only managing to pick up points against Bournemouth. They find themselves 16th in the table and everything points towards them failing to increase their points tally on Monday.
Arsenal, with four wins and just one goal conceded in their last five games, should get by fine without Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian started life emphatically in North London but failed to score in any of his last 14 appearances for club and country.
West Ham manager, David Moyes has described Arsenal boss, Mikel Arteta as a diligent boy, adding that he is not surprised to see the Gunners making an early Premier League title challenge.
Moyes said he has always believed in Arteta even when some were questioning his credentials as a Gunners boss.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Moyes told talkSPORT when asked about Arsenal’s title-winning form.
“I used to listen to pundits criticising Arsenal but they have been a really good team for a while and nobody was giving them respect.
‘He’s a really diligent boy and a young manager learning his way. He’ll make a few mistakes, but I did too and everybody does when you are in management in the early years.”
Interestingly, Arteta had said Moyes made him a better person during their time together at Everton and hailed his West Ham United counterpart for shaping his managerial career.
Spaniard Arteta played under Moyes for six years at Everton after joining the club as a 22-year-old, helping them finish in the top four and reach the Champions League qualifiers.
“He was the one that introduced me to the Premier League and he has been a huge influence,” Arteta said. “I think he made me a better person, made me mature in the earlier stages of my career.
“He was really demanding and challenging but at the same time really supportive. I have great memories with him and we had some great times together.
“He really installed a real belief around the club to be together all the time…He really created a special atmosphere when we were together and I think that is why everyone involved at that time really enjoyed our time together.”
Arteta said he was delighted to see his former manager thrive after difficult spells with Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland.
“I suffered when he had a difficult time because I didn’t think it was fair that he was given no time in some places,” Arteta said.
“I know his qualities and I’m glad to see that now he is enjoying it and doing what he is really good at. I can see his team being what he is and what he likes to do.”
Another interesting clash on Boxing Day is the encounter between Liverpool and Aston Villa.
Liverpool have been the Premier League’s biggest underachievers this season so Jurgen Klopp’s men will be desperate to return from the World Cup break with a momentum-building win at Aston Villa.
Having come so close to a second league title under Klopp on the final day last term, most people expected the Anfield giants to be the biggest challengers to Manchester City once more.
But when the Premier League went into shutdown for Qatar 2022, Liverpool found themselves sitting in seventh place, 10 points behind City and whopping 15 adrift of surprise pace-setters Arsenal.
A title push looks beyond them but the more immediate concern is a Champions League place, with Klopp’s side currently seven points behind fourth-placed Spurs.
However, Aston Villa’s season has also been a major disappointment with manager Steven Gerrard axed back in October with his team closer to the drop zone than the upper reaches of the table.
Despite heavy investment in the squad, Villa made little if no progress under the former Rangers boss, with Unai Emery now charged with taking them forward.
The Spaniard has made a decent start and his team headed into the break having won three of their last five games. That lifted them five points clear of the drop zone but Emery won’t be able to relax until his team climb further up the table.
Successive wins over Manchester United and high-flying Brighton proved that Aston Villa have the class to beat any team on their day so it will be interesting to see how Liverpool fare in the Midlands.
Liverpool have suffered some embarrassing defeats at Villa Park in recent seasons, with a 5-0 League Cup loss in 2019 followed by a 7-2 Premier League thrashing the following year. But those two wins are the only highlights for Villa in the last 10 meetings, with the eight other matches all ending in wins for the Reds.