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Match Preview: Arsenal v Southampton; Arsenal Need A Win to Kick off New Year

When Arsenal take the field tomorrow at St. Mary’s it will constitute the gradual turn to the downward slope of the 2014/2015 Premier League season. It will also, hopefully, mark the start of Arsenal trying to make up ground they shouldn’t ever have lost.

Arsenal sit 13 points off leaders Chelsea and 10 points off chasers Manchester City. The frustrating part to the first half of the season was that Arsenal lost 11 points from winning positions so far.  Assuming that they reduced to say 4 points, we’d be in the title hunt. But right now, we aren’t. And while the story goes you can never tell what’s going to happen day to day, week to week in the Premier League, I think we can safely say that unless Chelsea and City go on a monumental slide of Tottenham proportions, we aren’t catching up to the title contenders.

That means we’re in it for a fight for third or fourth. Not what we want but it’s better than the alternative.

It all starts however, with a trip to this season’s darling – Southampton. They eeked out a draw on Sunday to Chelsea and have halted their skid that started by losing to City and ended with a loss to Burnley (they subsequently lost to Sheffield United in the Capital One Cup). Chelsea should’ve likely walked out winners this past match but were denied a clear cut penalty that would’ve put them up 2-1. But in the end the draw suits Southampton and keeps them in the top four on equal points with us but up on goal differential.

In the last meeting, contrary to popular opinion, Arsenal had the better of the play they just couldn’t or didn’t do anything with the chances they were given until Sanchez’s late winner. Arsenal ended the game with 59% possession and 19 shots (8 on goal). Southampton only managed 6 shots with only 1 of them reaching the goal. Interestingly enough that clean sheet came with Arsenal’s preferred center back pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker.

However, heading into St. Mary’s may be a different task then what Arsenal faced in early December. Southampton have been prolific scorers at home averaging 2.2 goals per game in the confines of their turf. Even more impressive they’ve only managed to concede an average of .7 goals per game making them home beasts on both fronts.

Arsene in this festive period hasn’t done as much rotation as many would have liked. And there is the risk that some of the players who play tomorrow may be near burn out. However, I can on a certain level understand Wenger’s rationale – we must build momentum in the league. We aren’t miles away from our ‘minimum achievement’ of a top four spot. The players who have been playing have been getting into a groove and against West Ham the speedy attack really shouldn’t have made that game close.

There remain some decisions to be made in terms of the lineup that Wenger will roll out with. Danny Welbeck faces a fitness test due to a thigh problem he experienced in the West Ham match. If he doesn’t pass fit, it looks like we will see the first start in about a year for Theo Walcott. If Theo starts we could see Ox moved over to the left wing and Sanchez moved up in the striker role. To be honest, I get giddy thinking of the possibility of that attack.  But caution must be stressed, if Theo does start, we shouldn’t expect anything more than a solid outing.

Additionally, Francis Coquelin has given Wenger some serious food for thought after putting in a solid shift against the strength and grit of West Ham. He did a great job winning balls and making critical tackles clogging up the midfield. But Southampton presents more of a finesse game not the meat and cleaver of Sam Alardyce’s charges. It’s for this reason I think Wenger will opt to have Rosicky and Cazorla in with Flamini sitting in front of the defense.

Flamini is the obvious concern. I’m not in the “oh god he’s woeful” camp. I am more in the “he’s okay, but there is a lot better out there and we should bring them in NOW” camp. You know Flamini is having a good match when you don’t see him much. When his game is quiet you know he’s being effective (or that the game is staying out wide and not coming into the middle – take your pick.) When you worry is when you see too much gesticulation and his fabled yellow card. That’s when you worry. And in fairness to his critics that is more the times than not. Flamini was good once, now he is good as a sub not an every day starter as has been thrust upon him.

Southampton present a solid opponent and it will be a tough match for sure. However, maybe one of the things that could tilt the match in Arsenal’s favor is the absence of Morgan Schneiderlein. Southampton’s decline started at the time Schneiderlein went out with an injury (as did others) but their resulting climb back started at about the time he came back into the squad. Schneiderlein is out of this match, having picked up two yellows in the match against Chelsea and having been dismissed. Still, Victor Wanayama has been strong and impressive so they will have strength in the midfield just maybe not as strong.

I’ve watched Southampton a few times and as impressive as they’ve been, they aren’t slick with the ball. Their passing efficiency at times against bigger times seems to falter. Arsenal should look to really work their pressing game, starting at the top with the energizer bunny himself Alexis Sanchez. If Arsenal can create the turnovers, the speed up top (with or without Theo) will allow us to pressure a defense that has been solid but is also having injury issues.

I wouldn’t get too crazy if we see Arsenal trying to absorb pressure from Southampton, I believe, especially on the road, Arsene has purposely been setting out to allow opponents time on the ball in the hopes of hitting them on the counter. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes, it doesn’t (Liverpool being in the latter.) Where I get worried with that set up is if we let that pressure get too deep in our defensive third. Tadic and Pelle have been amazingly good for Southampton and if we give them too much time and space they will without a doubt hurt us.

I expect both teams to have a bit of the wobblies about them to start tomorrow. The festive period has its drawbacks and fatigue is one of them. While I would like to see a lightening start, I think we should expect two teams probing for weaknesses with each one trying open the other up – in other words – death by a thousand passes.

Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez. Okay he’s not scoring right now, but he is assisting. He’s also blessed with energy in abundance and his work ethic is so amazingly good that he is still even with the matches coming fast and furious running his damned ass off.

Southampton: Dusan Tadic. He netted 4 assists in one match versus Sunderland. He has looked bright and lively every time I’ve seen him play and canl cause the left side of Arsenal’s defense some worries

Probable Lineups:

Southampton (4-3-3), Arsenal (4-3-3)

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Arteta (calf), Ramsey (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Sanogo (hamstring), Özil (fitness), Giroud (suspended – 2)
Southampton: Schneiderlein (suspended -1), Clyne (ankle), Hesketh (knee), Cork (ankle), Gallagher (knee), Rodriguez (ACL)

Head to Head:

Head to Head Seasonal Comparison (stats courtesy Opta)

Match Officials:
Referee: Craig Pawson (14M 47Y 4R)|
Assistant Referees: S Long, S Burt
Fourth Official: S Atwell

Broadcast Information:
UK: Highlights on MOTD
US: NBC Sports Network 10:00 AM EST

YAMA Predictions:
Arsenal 2 – 2 Southampton

 

Match Facts (courtesy Opta Sports via FourFourTwo)

 

  • Southampton are without a win in 10 Premier League meetings with the Gunners (D4 L6).
  • Olivier Giroud has scored three goals in two Premier League starts against Saints.
  • Arsene Wenger has come up against Ronald Koeman on eight occasions, winning just two matches, drawing four and losing two.
  • Arsenal have won seven and lost just one of their nine New Year’s Day fixtures in Premier League history. The one draw came away against Southampton in 2013.
  • There have been five red cards in just six Premier League meetings between Arsenal and Southampton at St Mary’s.
  • Arsenal have lost just one of their six trips to St Mary’s but the last three have been draws.
  • Arsenal have scored two goals in each of their last three Premier League away games (and have won one, drawn one and lost one).
  • Alexis Sanchez has only scored one goal in his last five Premier League appearances.
  • But Sanchez has scored or assisted 47% of Arsenal’s Premier League goals this season (16 of 34).
  • Southampton have faced a league-low 174 shots at their goal, while Arsenal have conceded the next fewest (191).

 

What are your thoughts on this match? Can Arsenal  take all 3 points away to Southampton? Who should start? What do you think the score will be? Let us know.

 

 

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