Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he cannot forget last New Year’s Day beating at Southampton that he has highlighted as a turning point for his team.
The Gunners travel to St Mary’s for Boxing Day’s late kick-off just two points off the top of the table as they go in pursuit of surprise Christmas leaders Leicester.
Three league wins in succession, including Monday’s 2-1 victory over title rivals Manchester City, means Wenger’s side has now collected 78 points for the calender year, 10 more than any other club.
The Frenchman has highlighted an improved level of consistency as the reason Arsenal are the cream of the 2015 crop – despite missing out on a first league crown in 11 years.
But it could have been so different had they not regrouped and recovered following a damaging 2-0 defeat on the south coast right at the beginning of the year.
Defensive fragilities and errors from goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were compounded when the Poland international was then fined for smoking in the showers after the game.
He has not featured in a league game since and is currently out on loan at Roma but, after seeing his side mature over the course of 12 months, Wenger feels it was an important lesson for his players.
“I think what changed is we are more stable defensively,” Wenger said when asked what the main difference between his team then and now is.
“If you look at our record we are more consistent with our results and I looked yesterday and someone made the table in 2015 and we are quite ahead of everyone else in 2015.
“The consistency has been quite good. I will never forget that game in Southampton. There was a lot around the game after that. It was a turning point for 2015.”
As well as maturity, stability has also played a part in Arsenal morphing into bona fide championship challengers – with only goalkeeper Petr Cech added to the ranks in the summer.
The 33-year-old Czech has been in fine form since moving from rivals Chelsea and, despite being widely criticised for not making any outfield additions – Arsenal being the only club to do so across Europe’s top-five leagues – Wenger is pleased to have developed the relationship between the players already at his disposal.
“Society today always wants something new,” he added.
“We have news every half and hour, or every minute. You need to announce something new.
“But let’s not forget that football is as well about cohesion, about stability and that goes a little bit against the demand of what people want but I still think success is linked with the talent and cohesion.
“Cohesion is an under-rated factor now in our society because there is always a demand for something new.”
Wenger will now be hoping that cohesion can help his side have an equally impressive 2016 and lift the title for the first time since 2004 – with a third successive FA Cup still up for grabs, and with Barcelona waiting in the wings in the Champions League.