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Match Preview: Arsenal v Southampton; Changes Coming

We can expect another change in complexion for Arsenal’s EFL Cup quarterfinal match with Southampton on Wednesday.

Manager Arsène Wenger made seven alterations to his starting lineup between last Wednesday’s Champions League draw with Paris-Saint Germain and Sunday’s 3-1 league win over Bournemouth. The only holdovers were central defenders Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, playmaker Mesut Özil, and center forward Alexis Sanchez.

Selecting that quartet for two high-profile matches shows its importance to the current Arsenal team. In all likelihood, Koscielny, Mustafi, Özil, and Alexis will get a deserved rest against Southampton. They will have few opportunities for days off before the return fixture against Bournemouth on January 2.

In their places, Wenger will send out young players and squad stalwarts—Rob Holding and Gabriel in the center of defense, for example, and Alex Iwobi in the attacking midfield.

The center forward choice will be an interesting one. Recent league supersub Olivier Giroud would get the nod up front, but he tweaked his groin on Sunday and may need more time to recover. Lucas Perez will be in the squad after a month-injury absence; he might not be ready to start, though.

The other options would be Theo Walcott, replaced by Giroud after 75 minutes on Sunday, Iwobi as part of a fluid front four, or debutante Stephy Mavididi. None ideal. As a result, Wenger may have to fend off arguments from the indefatigable and insistent Alexis for another run-out.

We’ll also see Kieran Gibbs return to left back and Francis Coquelin to the center of midfield. Other candidates for starting roles include Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Chris Willock.

All have earned playing time in Arsenal’s two wins in this competition. They’ll be backed by goalkeeper Emi Martinez.

This group will face its stiffest test in this competition so far. Not only are Southampton the first top-flight side to play Arsenal in this year’s cup, the Saints have posed serious challenges to the Gunners of late. Arsenal’s 2-1, stoppage-time, league win in September was just their second in seven outings against Southampton. That included a 2-1 loss in this competition two years ago.

Like Wenger, Southampton manager Claude Puel should adjust his starting XI from the one that defeated Everton 1-0 at the weekend. The Saints’ schedule is just as busy as the Gunners’, with a return to London against Crystal Palace and a crunch Europa League matchup with Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the next eight days.

There’s also precedent for Puel to rotate for this competition. He switched nine starters between Southampton’s league draw at Manchester City and the 1-0 home win over Sunderland in the last round.

Key Matchup

Alex Iwobi against Harrison Reed and Jordy Clasie. If Özil does get the break as anticipated, much of Arsenal’s creative burden will fall to Iwobi. He has not made much of an impact recently—as is normal for players who burst into the first team. Southampton are a difficult team to unlock, largely because their deep midfielders and defenders work so well together. Iwobi will need to find his daring and execution to create chances for his teammates.

Where to Worry

Shane Long annoys Arsenal every time he faces them. The Irish striker is tireless both in his running and in his niggly fouling. He’ll try to get under Gabriel’s skin and hope for a mistake from the relatively inexperienced defensive partnership of Arsenal.

Match Verdict

 This one has the makings of a cagey and uneven affair. Because both teams will have relatively new makeups, synching the attacks might prove difficult. The heightened, if only mildly, pressure of a quarterfinal with Wembley on the distant horizon might also have a psychological effect on the players.

Players to Watch

Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His double propelled Arsenal to a 2-0 win over Reading in the last round. The incentive of facing his former club, plus his improved performances aside from his North London Derby cameo, could push him to make a telling impact here.

Southampton. Stuart Taylor. The ex-Arsenal man, now 36, may get his Southampton debut in goal in the absence of Alex McCarthy. He’ll need all that experience and good relationships with his back four to keep Arsenal’s youthful attack from bamboozling him.

Injuries and Suspensions

Arsenal: Mertesacker (knee), Welbeck (knee), Cazorla (Achilles), Bellerin (ankle), Debuchy (hamstring), Giroud (groin)

Southampton: Tadic (nose), McCarthy (hamstring), Targett (hamstring), Pied (knee)

Probable Lineups

Arsenal: Martinez – Jenkinson Holding Gabriel Gibbs – Coquelin Ramsey – Reine-Adelaide Iwobi Oxlade-Chamberlain – Lucas

Southampton: Taylor – McQueen Fonte Yoshida Stephens –Clasie Reed Davis Boufal – Long Rodriguez

Match Officials

Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistant referees: J Collin, M Wilkes
Fourth official: M Clattenburg

Broadcast Information
UK: Audio only, Arsenal Player, 1745 GMT
US: BeIN Sports Connect and Fubo TV, 2:45 PM EST

YAMA Prediction
Arsenal 2 – 1 Southampton

The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com)

We will have a mixture of youth and experience, but still 90 percent of the first-team squad.

Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.com)

  • Arsenal’s last three home League Cup games against Premier League opposition have ended in defeat, with just one goal scored.
  • The Gunners have progressed from just one of their last five League Cup quarter-finals, last doing so in 2010-11 with a 2-0 win over Wigan.
  • Arsenal have lost just one of their seven League Cup meetings with Southampton.
  • Southampton have been eliminated at this stage of the competition on each of their last seven attempts.
  • No player has had a hand in more EFL Cup goals than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain this season (4 – three goals, one assist).
  • Oxlade-Chamberlain has also scored each of Arsenal’s last three goals in the EFL Cup.

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