The Premier League returns on Boxing Day, as Arsenal lock horns with London rivals West Ham at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal went into the World Cup break sitting pretty at the top of the table, enjoying a five-point cushion over second-placed Manchester City. They beat Wolves 2-0 in their last game before the hiatus, and manager Mikel Arteta will want a strong start from his boys in the second half of the season.
West Ham, on the other hand, endured a tough first half of the season and lie 16th in the table. Under pressure, David Moyes will want his team to fight and take all three points against league leaders Arsenal.
On that note, let us take a look at the key battles that could define the outcome of the game on Monday.
#Jarrod Bowen vs Arsenal centre-backs
With Gianluca Scamacca and Michail Antonio big doubts against Arsenal, David Moyes could be forced to use Jarrod Bowen through the middle as the No.9.
Bowen, 26, has not been in the best of forms this season, scoring just two goals in 15 games. Yet, he remains a threat and has the qualities to hurt Arsenal. The Arsenal centre-backs—William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes—will have to be sound positionally throughout the game.
Keeping Bowen quiet will help the Gunners in eliminating West Ham’s biggest threat on the break.
#Martin Odegaard vs Declan Rice
Martin Odegaard keeps Arsenal ticking with his passing, creativity and movement. The Norway international is more than capable of breaching the tightest of defences and, given how West Ham have been defensively throughout the first half of the season, he could be licking his lips at the prospect of facing them on Monday.
David Moyes is wary of the threat Odegaard possesses and could task Declan Rice to keep a close watch on him. Sitting deep, Rice can expertly break the opposition’s attacks, block passing lanes and win back possession for his team. The England international can also drive forward with the ball and help his team in transitional moments.
If Rice can somehow nullify Odegaard’s influence in the game, West Ham’s chances of keeping a clean sheet will go a notch higher.
#Gabriel Martinelli vs Vladimir Coufal
A veteran seething with experience against one of the Premier League’s top talents, the clash between Vladimir Coufal and Gabriel Martinelli could go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game.
Naturally a left-wide forward, Martinelli is capable of tormenting the opposition with his pace, movement, creativity and finishing. The Brazil international can hug the touchline or cut inside, which makes him unpredictable to defend for any player.
Moyes could line up in a 3-4-2-1 formation against Arsenal and use Coufal as a right wing-back. He will be tasked with the responsibility of keeping Martinelli quiet. The Czech Republic international is a dogged and tenacious player, and will look to pin Martinelli back with his forward surges.
This duel between Martinelli and Coufal will be one to keep an eye on.