Two key fixtures are on the horizon for Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side.
Not only is there the small matter of the north London derby on Saturday lunchtime but Wednesday sees Montpellier come to town in a crucial Champions League tie.
Summer signing Santi Cazorla has been lauded since his arrival at the Emirates Stadium but is yet to be given any rest in his first season in English football - and the midfielder will come into the Tottenham grudge match having flown to Panama and back in midweek with the Spain national team.
The first signs of jadedness appear to be creeping in and he might not be in the best shape to face Spurs but is it too important a match for him to miss? Goal.com looks at both sides of the argument.
|YES - HE SHOULD PLAY
By George Ankers
Saturday's clash with Tottenham is a much more important fixture for Arsenal than Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Montpellier. As such, Cazorla needs to play, 100 per cent or not.
With the Manchester clubs and Chelsea streaking ahead in the Premier League, fourth place is likely to be the best to which both north London sides can aspire this season. With Everton and West Brom also flying high, however, it is even more difficult than a straight two-horse race – though tough upcoming fixtures should at least sink West Ham.
It makes the Spurs game more important than it already would have been. In years gone by, the Premier League climate was such that Arsenal could have taken the admittedly embarrassing loss and counted on making up the points elsewhere. Now, with the quality elsewhere – as well as their own weakened squad – that is much harder to do.
With Tottenham missing key midfield presence Mousa Dembele, the Gunners have an opportunity to seize the initiative in the centre of the pitch. Cazorla's superlative quality should be key to asserting their dominance in that area.
With Tottenham missing key midfielder Mousa Dembele, the Gunners have an opportunity to seize the initiative in the centre
And yes, it is also important that Arsenal get a result against Montpellier – but that is set to be an altogether easier proposition with less disastrous consequences for failure.
The Gunners have already hamstrung last season's French champions by snatching away Olivier Giroud. Since then, La Paillade have slumped to 14th in Ligue 1, just two points from the drop-zone, and caused Arsene Wenger's men few problems in a 2-1 defeat at Stade de la Mosson in September.
If Arsenal cannot beat Montpellier at home even without Cazorla, then the problems at the Emirates Stadium are more severe than we thought. And even if they were held to a draw or even lose, qualification for the knockout stages would still be in their hands.
Pushing to top the group would be a bonus, of course, but as it stands the quality of opposition in the next round would not vary too much on those grounds. Bayern Munich are currently second in their group, as are Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk. Arsenal might almost prefer to draw Malaga or Valencia, both top at present.
The consequences of failure, simply put, are much more dire on Saturday than on Wednesday. If Wenger wants to rest Cazorla, it is clear when would be the best time to do so.
|NO - IT IS NOT WORTH THE RISK
By Alex Young
Cazorla is in desperate need of a rest, otherwise he runs the risk of burning out.
The 27-year-old has featured in every single one of Arsenal's Premier League and Champions League outings so far this season – sitting out just the two Capital One Cup triumphs – often being relied upon for the full 90 minutes.
And this over-exposure has affected the high standard of Cazorla's displays. The first chink in his seemingly indomitable armour was exposed against Schalke in the Champions League on November 6.
|NEEDS A REST?
Cazorla's last five Arsenal ratings
0-2 v Schalke
1-0 v QPR
1-2 v Man Utd
2-2 v Schalke
3-3 v Fulham
The draw in Gelsenkirchen subsequently means that Arsenal must beat Montpellier on Wednesday to keep up their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the tournament.
Cazorla is showing signs of jadedness, so a round trip to Panama in midweek is the exact opposite of what the midfielder needed.
The Spain international travelled a staggering 8,000 miles to join up with his countrymen for the friendly in South America, to then spend the entire game sitting on the bench before making the return journey late on Thursday.
Cazorla is not expected to return to Arsenal until Friday lunchtime, with the crunch north London derby against Tottenham just 24 hours later.
|SANTI TO SCORE?
|2/1||Santi Cazorla is 2/1 to score anytime against Spurs with bet365|
Andre Villas-Boas will be taking a weakened Spurs team to the Emirates on Saturday, with the likes of Dembele, Younes Kaboul, Benoit Assou-Ekotto all still sidelined while there will be late fitness tests on the likes of Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker.
Arsenal are more than capable of beating a weakened Tottenham outfit, who have only won two of their last seven games in all competitions – including losses in three of their last four in the Premier League.
Cazorla has shined for Arsenal this season but he is in desperate need of a break if the club are to improve their recent slump in form and fight for Arsene Wenger's much-beloved fourth spot.
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