Alan Smith believes Arsenal could face a defining moment of their season when they take on Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Super Sunday.
The top-of-the-table Foxes saw off Manchester City at the Etihad last weekend, and face another test of their title credentials against the Gunners.
Arsenal’s victory over Bournemouth was their first win in five league games, and with five points separating the two sides at kick-off, former Leicester and Arsenal striker Smith told Sky Sports News HQ Sunday’s match could prove crucial come the end of the season.
“Arsenal have got to make sure they’re at it for the big occasions, and this is a huge occasion,” Smith said. “It could be a defining moment of their season.
“If they can come through it, then they’re going to have great confidence for the reminder of the season.
“Bournemouth was a must-win game after those four matches [without a victory]. They had lost their confidence, belief, and momentum, so that’s got them back on track and a win on Sunday would get them more firmly back on track.”
With another big game on the horizon, Smith says Arsene Wenger’s side have the quality to beat Leicester, but believes the Chelsea game raises fresh concerns over their ability to perform when the pressure is on.
“The jury is still out,” he continued. “They have a really poor record in terms of staying at the top at the end of seasons. Part of that is the squad has not been strong enough, and it’s partly down to mental weakness too.
“There has been a psychological barrier and we’ve seen that twice against Chelsea this season. They just can’t get over the line against their London rivals.
“As a wider issue – are they mentally strong enough now to push on, to beat Leicester on Sunday, and to push on again during the difficult away games to come? Are they strong enough to get their talent across? That’s still the big question for me.”
Arsenal’s 5-2 victory at the King Power Stadium in September could provide a blueprint for success this weekend, and Wenger may be further boosted by the return of Francis Coquelin to the starting line-up after a two-game absence.
But Per Mertesacker, who has not featured since his red card in the Chelsea defeat, may remain on the bench with Smith predicting Wenger to stick with Gabriel Paulista in defence.
“It was actually Arsenal counter-attacking Leicester at the King Power,” Smith continued. “Theo Walcott was in the team through the middle, as well as Alexis Sanchez, but it’s a different story when you’re playing at home. You’ve got two extremely talented teams.
“Arsenal have to defend properly, and I would guess Wenger will stick with Gabriel next to [Laurent] Koscielny. Gabriel has more pace than Mertesacker and they have to deal with pace.
“I’d expect to see Coquelin back in the holding midfield position too. He gives the side so much more stability in front of the back four, and they are getting back to full strength.”