The international break is done. Time for the premiership to kick into action again, and with it, comes Arsenal's chance to put to bed the defeat against Manchester United, and push on in their quest for the title. 13 days will have passed when Arsenal face Southampton, and 13 days is a long time in football. While the table may not have changed in that time, attitudes will have. Arsenal dominated the United game, and came away with nothing, which must have smarted in the bus back to the Emirates. What is a 5 point gap, could have and probably should have been been 11. But the international break came at just the right time. No chance to sit and fester. No chance to question if the quality is really there. Instead, a break, and then a return, refocused, and aware that, in truth, if anyone had offered Arsene Wenger "top of the league with Liverpool and Southampton your closest threats", the Professor would have developed a sudden taste for human flesh!
December looms. Clashes against Manchester City (away) and Everton plus Chelsea (home) loiter with intent on the busy schedule in mid December, but before that, come games against Cardiff and Hull, games which Wenger's team should expect to win. To start that ball rolling though, requires a performance against this season's surprise package. Southampton are on a high, 3rd in the table, a goal difference 5 better than Man United and 7 better than the much vaunted Tottenham team who sit, like United, 2 points behind them. The football Southampton have played so far should not be understated. A win at Anfield and a draw at Old Trafford, unbeaten since August in the league, it is entirely possible that, for the Saints, the international break came just at the wrong time. Visits to Arsenal and then Chelsea in successive games might go a long way in bringing Mauricio Pochettino, back to earth, especially if they suffer a heavy defeat, but again, if the same interviewer had asked him, "Would you take 22 points from your first 11 games?", said interviewer might well be on the lookout for an assistant to hold his microphone due to yet another nasty limb removal.
It would be foolish though, especially given previous sited results, to assume that Southampton will just roll over. Wenger, and indeed Jose Mourinho need to be wary, and address the games to come as they would against any other top 4 team, because, Southampton are most certainly there at the moment by merit. With Manchester City and Spurs playing each other, one or both will lose points, a draw being the best result for those above, which coupled with an Arsenal win would place City 8 points behind, and more humourously for Gunners everywhere given their outlay on players, leave Spurs 7 points adrift.
The return of the big German central defender, and doubtless buoyant after scoring the winner against England, Per Mertesacker for Arsenal, will be a plus. Much has been written about whether Robin van Persie would have scored with a header had Mertesacker not been absent through illness, but either way it cannot be denied that his partnership with Laurent Koscielny has proven effective so far. Both Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert played in the defeated England team and so that might add a little extra bite to the encounter. The game could again herald the relegation to the bench of the Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen, something which in a world cup year, the Belgian must be more and more disillusioned with.
There is just one thing I've not mentioned. If Southampton win, by 2 clear goals, and Liverpool fail to get a result in the early game against Everton, Southampton will overtake Arsenal and sit top of the Premier League. Who's to say it won't happen? Given some of the results so far this season it seems like 10-1 shots are happening 9 times out of 10. Which is why, I for one, am glad normal weekend football service, is resumed.