Reasons for optimism at Arsenal as Mikel Arteta bids to spark upturn in form following timely winter break

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After over two weeks without a game, Arsenal will finally be back in action this week when they take on Wolves at Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

The Premier League winter break came at an ideal time for Arsenal, with many of their players looking exhausted during a frustrating 0-0 draw against Burnley in their last game on January 23.

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That result rounded off a miserable month for the Gunners in which they were dumped out of both the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup.

But they are still in the race for Champions League qualification and, despite a quiet January transfer window, there are still reasons for supporters to be optimistic heading into the business end of the season.

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Here, Standard Sport looks at why…

Partey and Xhaka set to be reunited in midfield

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It is no coincidence that Arsenal had one of their best performances of the season against Manchester City on New Year’s Day when Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey were paired together in midfield.

It is also no coincidence that their form nosedived when the duo were separated for the rest of January due to the Africa Cup of Nations and then suspension.

Throughout December, Partey and Xhaka struck up a good understanding and the fact they will now be reunited is huge for Arsenal.

They offer Mikel Arteta control and stability in the middle of the park, which in turn allows the likes of Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard to go and express themselves.

Martinelli and Saka should be refreshed after a well-earned break

Arsenal players looked dead on their feet after their draw with Burnley, with Gabriel Martinelli and Saka particularly shattered.

The pair racked up a lot of minutes last month, with Arsenal’s lack of options forcing Arteta’s hand in terms of selection and an inability to rotate his young stars.

Reasons for optimism at Arsenal as Mikel Arteta bids to spark upturn in form following timely winter break
© Provided by Evening Standard Bukayo Saka on the club’s warm-weather training trip to Dubai (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Martinelli did not miss a single minute of action in January, while Saka himself was absent for just a quarter of an hour in total.

The winter break came at the perfect moment for the duo, who were in need of a rest and will play a crucial role in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

Returning Pepe offers chance to change game off the bench

The most telling aspect of the Burnley draw was the fact Arteta had so few options on the bench to change the game.

Particularly from an attacking point of view, other than Eddie Nketiah, the Spaniard was left with nothing more than youngsters to call upon. The return of Nicolas Pepe changes that and, the fact he showed flashes of brilliance while at the Africa Cup of Nations, is a major plus point.

Simply put, Arsenal need to be able to mix things up when pushing for points and the chaos Pepe can cause of the bench is a useful weapon.

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