December 27,2013

The "festive season" is in full swing. And since Christmas fell on a Wednesday this year, for many of us it means an exhausting period in which we spend far too much time dealing with shopping malls and shipping companies and not enough time with family and friends.

Imagine how footballers feel.

After a much needed nine-day break after the trip to Manchester City, Arsenal began an excruciating week.

It all kicked-off on Christmas Eve² - also known as Monday - when Arsenal hosted Chelsea. The first thing to note was the weather. Granted, we've seen nasty winter storms postpone games at this time of year more than once in recent memory, but the driving rain and swirling wind made for simply appalling conditions - just check out photo No. 10 in the match gallery. Despite the fact that the pitch at Emirates Stadium can withstand much more than most football pitches, it was still going to be a difficult night for the players. Especially when you consider that the team would have to turn around and play again three days later.

After the weekend, Arsenal fell from first to third in the league table without doing anything. And after the loss to City, Arsenal needed a strong response. While a scoreless draw at home may not have entirely been what the doctor ordered, it did provide a decent tonic .

A slow first half was followed by a second half which saw a big boost in tempo and tenacity. Arsenal created scoring chances, but couldn’t quite convert. While a win would have put us right back on top of the table, the single point was enough to put us even on points with Liverpool and end a two-game losing streak.

Not that it pleased the manager. Arsène Wenger was left unimpressed with the performance of the referee and said, "I felt we should have won this game." He cited a penalty shout in the first half and " two or three good opportunities that we didn’t take" in the second half. Still he did give praise to his squad for the effort they put in.

After the game, the biggest talking point was the difficulty of the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's Day. Kieran Gibbs said, "We were left frustrated but this is the most unforgiving part of the season … We have to forget it and move on."

Wojciech Szczesny agreed that the fixture list makes for a very tough schedule, but added, "I think it's enjoyable as well because I think we're the only league in Europe that does it."

And every year questions arise over whether there should be a winter break in England. But for they players, it's just a part of life. Szczesny says it "separates the men from boys" and Mathieu Flamini added that while a break would be welcome, "You have to respect tradition and be part of the beauty of the English league, where you play on Boxing Day."

And so about 65 hours after the final whistle against Chelsea, Arsenal made the trek to East London to face West Ham. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Boxing Day match was that the manager made only  one change to the side.

The pace was quick form the start and it looked as though Arsenal would run away with an easy three points. But for all of the chances we created, West Ham held firm and the half ended at 0-0. Still, the sense was that goals would come in the second half.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, a goal did come early in the second half – for the Hammers. Carlton Cole put the hosts up 53 seconds in and Arsenal were left scrambling. A few minutes later, Per Mertesacker had a big penalty shout when his shot hit the trailing arm of a West Ham player. But the referee waved it off and West Ham came very close to doubling their lead.

The big change happened in the 65th minute when Lukas Podolski came on for the first time since August. Three minutes later, Theo Walcott equalized when his shot went past the legs of two defenders, through the arms of the keeper and trickled in. And then within another three minutes, Poldi whipped in a cross from the left and Theo headed it home for the brace – and the lead.

Not to be outdone, Poldi grabbed a goal for himself with a powerful strike form the edge of the area 11 minutes from time to put a final stamp on the 3-1 win.

After the game Wenger was asked whether he was worried after going down 1-0. "I have confidence but I have confidence and [still] I worry," he answered. "We had plenty of chances in the first half, we couldn't take our chances but after that we responded very well and won the game in a convincing way."

There was some bad news in the game however. When Poldi came on, he replaced Aaron Ramsey who needed to be substituted after picking up a thigh injury. Wenger said that it looked serious and "the Christmas period certainly is over for him."

Definitely a blow as there are two more league games to go before this festive season ends. There is a New Year's Day game against Cardiff at home, but first up is a trip to Newcastle on Sunday. The Magpies are breathing down the necks of the top four and a win could get the even on points with Liverpool in the fourth spot. They have also doen well against the big clubs with wins against Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks. They also put five goals past Stoke on Boxing Day so they will be coming into this game on a high.

For Arsenal, we have lost just one of our last 12 Premier League games at St James Park and most recently won 1-0 there in 2012/13 season finale. But this a different Newcastle team. They are very organized and consistent and they have numerous scoring threats this season.

It’s an early kick-off, 8.30am ET so be sure to set your alarm. You can find the game on NBCSN in the USA and Sportsnet World in Canada. Of course if you can manage it, why not hit the pub with your fellow Gooners?

It's an important game for Arsenal. By the end of the day we will know if we end 2013 on top of the table. But bragging rights aside, it's also another huge test and an opportunity to see what this squad is made of.

Come on you Gunners!

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Kevin Mooney 27 Dec 2013