Zabaleta heartened by trio's return
Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta believes the return of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Edin Dzeko will give them a significant boost in what is an important month.
A 1-1 draw at Everton saw Chelsea move two points ahead at the top of the Barclays Premier League and with a trip to Stamford Bridge to come at the end of January they cannot afford any more slip-ups.
However, amid the disappointment at Goodison Park the sight of top scorer Aguero coming off the bench for his first appearance since early December was a welcome one.
Kompany, also out for a month, was also back in the squad as an unused substitute and while Dzeko did not make the bench he is not far away from a comeback.
Aguero and Kompany are in contention to start at home to Arsenal next weekend and Zabaleta thinks the return of key players - especially with Yaya Toure at the African Nations Cup - is timely even though City have won 11 and drawn three of their last 14 matches.
"They are really important players for the team," said Zabaleta.
"We need all the best players 100 per cent fit because this is a crucial moment for the team.
"There are a lot of games coming up, with the Champions League as well.
"Hopefully they can stay 100 per cent fit for the next games and we are looking forward to it."
Despite losing ground on Chelsea, the defender said what Jose Mourinho's side did was not an issue for them.
However, he admitted they had to still be in touch when the pair meet this month.
"We know the race for the title is going to be very tough," Zabaleta added.
"Chelsea are in great form as well but every single game in the league is a final.
"When you play away from home you don't have any easy games and teams can drop points like we did today.
"We stay positive. We have Arsenal next weekend and we have to go there and win that before we think about the Chelsea game.
"We need to stay focused on what we are doing. We are playing well and that is what we need to win games.
"It doesn't matter what Chelsea are doing at the moment. We are 100 per cent focused on what we are doing.
"There is a big game next week because then we have the FA Cup before the Chelsea game so it will be crucial to win at home to Arsenal because we have to go to Stamford Bridge with a big chance to win that game."
City struggled to break down a resilient Everton and despite creating a number of good first-half chances it was not until the 74th minute they found the breakthrough.
It began with Zabaleta, who dispossessed Romelu Lukaku on the edge of the City penalty area which launched a counter-attack from which Fernandinho headed in David Silva's deflected cross.
However, the lead lasted just four minutes as Steven Naismith glanced home Leighton Baines' free-kick for a deserved point.
"Everton away is a very tough place to go but I think overall it was a great game, we created chances especially in the first half when we missed a few of them," said Zabaleta.
"It was a shame to concede the goal because we were very close to three points but when you cannot win it is important to get a point."