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Eye On EPL

Wenger banishing ghosts of Novembers past may lead to title tilt

November has typically been a disastrous month for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

In the 77 November league games he has presided over since his appointment in 1996, the Gunners have yielded 1.58 points per game - the lowest across all 10 months of the season.

The next lowest mark is 1.88 points per game for August, while their highest haul is 2.18 in March.

Which is why the Emirates faithful must be feeling confident of a genuine title challenge after their team's 3-1 win over Bournemouth on Sunday.

The result meant Arsenal have not tasted defeat in all competitions thus far this month, despite facing title rivals Tottenham and Manchester United (both 1-1), as well as French giants Paris Saint-Germain (2-2) in the Champions League.

The fixture pile-up next month would be an acid test for Wenger, whom I believe wants to retire only after winning another EPL title. This is the time his and all the other title-chasing managers' credentials come into play, with games coming thick and fast.

There is still a home clash against Southampton in the League Cup tomorrow, but this competition has never been high on the Gunners' list of priorities.

The good run will boost the team's confidence ahead of a tough December when tricky games against Stoke, Everton and Manchester City await them.

The difference with Arsenal this season is the depth of their squad. Wenger spent money in the off-season to beef up the squad, and this has allowed them to cope with injuries to key players including Per Mertesacker, Hector Bellerin and Santi Cazorla.

The competition for places even saw England international Jack Wilshere request a loan move to Bournemouth to get more playing time.

In addition, other players are stepping up to the plate. Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi have improved this season, all contributing important goals.

That, coupled with the sustained excellence of stalwarts Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, has contributed to the north London side's good form so far.

I do think they still need a top-class striker to really challenge for the title, but things do look good for the team, especially since they tend to play better in the second half of the season.

The fixture pile-up next month would be an acid test for Wenger, whom I believe wants to retire only after winning another EPL title.

This is the time his and all the other title-chasing managers' credentials come into play, with games coming thick and fast.

Players want to be selected for every game, so it is up to the manager to ensure his best players do not burn out before the month is over.

The manager also has to use all kinds of technology at his disposal to ensure the players recover quickly after each exertion.

There are also little tricks they can do to keep the team's spirits up in what promises to be a trying month.

Leicester City's Claudio Ranieri famously gave his players his blessing for a Christmas party in Copenhagen last December.

The result?

The Foxes lost only one game - to Liverpool - in December, despite a fixture list that also included Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton.

The title chase seems to be shaping up into a four-horse race, with leaders Chelsea, Liverpool, City and Arsenal all in the mix.

It is still early to call, but with some luck, this could yet be Wenger's year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Wenger banishing ghosts of Novembers past may lead to title tilt'. Print Edition | Subscribe