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Match Preview: Arsenal v Southampton; More of the Same Please

A midweek fixtures, guaranteed to cause you more heartache then you deserve. But frankly, this one of the things I love about the premier league is how at this time of year, the matches come fast and furious and only the strong will survive.

On saying that then, the cynic you probably said well, that counts Arsenal out then. The cynic would go on to tell us how fragile we are physically and mentally. On one hand they might be right. We’ve had a surprising number of injuries, even by Arsenal’s standards and the biggest issue with this team has been their mental determination from match to match.

The other side of the coin is that the team is laden with talented individuals and key players are starting to show form where they previously hadn’t and it should be easy to build off of two clean sheets in a row.

The gray area is the opponent. Today’s is top 4 usurpers Southampton. The club that begat Theo, the Ox and new boy Chambers, comes to town having maintained a steady position on the top 4. However, they have endured 3 losses to teams who are more than likely to be considered top 4 sides than Southampton is.

However, what Ronald Koeman’s side have been doing rather consistently is beating the teams below them and doing it quite well. They’ve played solid attractive football with a sound defensive base. Until their 3-0 loss to Manchester City they had only conceded 6 goals in the league. The question has always been, were they merely beating up on lesser clubs and faltering when playing the big boys?

We met this side in the opening rounds of the Capital One Cup and due to our own frailties threw a lead. Sounds awfully like how a lot of this season has gone. So we know they can hang there with the big boys. But in the league when playing the top 4 contenders, they’ve been beaten. They looked good at times but the quality of the other teams eventually won out.

Against City the whole dynamic turned on the injury to Morgan Schneiderlein, who is also out for this match. With Schneiderlein in the side, his partnership with Wanayama  worked as cover for the two centerbacks. Altogether they create a midfield box of four that does very well to limit their opposition’s chances.  With Schnederlein off the pitch in the second half against City, the discipline in the midfield seemed loss and Wanayama suddenly found himself getting farther forward.

The subsequent space in the midfield opened up the game and let City get it’s chances and with the talent they have, the certainly made the home side pay. The question is will Southampton have had enough time to cover this with Schneiderlein’s replacement, Cork. Cork is apt deputy in the midfield and is likely Scheiderlein’s permanent replacement, if the Frenchman does eventually leave the Saints.

If the four man box is solid, Arsenal will need to work the wide channels. They are going to need to stretch the play open up the field for them. Last season, Newcastle played this way and Arsenal were superb in opening up the field through use of it’s wing players. They also did it effectively against a resolute Napoli in last season’s Champion’s League. So we know they can do it.

The problem with Arsenal though, is that haven’t used their width to their advantage very much this season. When it goes pear-shaped Arsenal seemingly look intent to play through the middle. In this match if Southampton set up with the boxed four, it will limit all of the Gunner’s chances.

Is it any wonder that our goal against West Brom came from Santi Cazorla taking the ball wide and deep and getting that sublime cross in? West Brom defenders said after the match, you hardly expect Arsenal to create those kind of chances. In others teams know to play us strong centrally because that’s where we look to play.

Now playing wide doesn’t mean not using the midfield. It means stretching the field to the point where players in the middle may find more space because the whole field is opened up. It takes away a compact defenses advantage.

It’s all elementary, I know. But the elementary doesn’t seem to be anything we’ve done with any consistency this season. We’ve looked good the last two matches because we did the simple things and did them correctly. We passed better, we defended better and we created play from all various areas of the pitch.  When Arsenal play like that, they are better than most teams in this league, even the good ones.

It will be a tough match and you could argue we are in line to see a draw but I think the loss of Schneiderlein looms big for the visitors and will disrupt their stability. With Santi and Ramsey coming into form (finally) we can take advantage of that. We should take advantage of that. In the end I’ll call for a hard fought 2-1 win. Why not, I’m always bullish on this team regardless the situation.

Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Santi Cazorla. We’ve been waiting a long time for Santi to come back to the Santi of a year and half ago. He was solid vs. Dortmund but influential against West Brom. If this continues, those chances will start going in too.

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 will cause the left side of Arsenal’s defense some worries

Probable Lineups:

Arsenal (4-2-3-1/4-3-3) Southampton (4-3-3)

Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Arteta (calf), Walcott (groin), Debuchy (ankle), Ospina (thigh), Özil (knee), Wilshere (ankle) Oxlade Chamberlain (test), Gibbs (test) Monreal (test)

Southampton: Schneiderlein (groin), Ward-Prowse (ankle) Gallagher (knee), Rodriguez (ACL)

Head to Head:

Seasonal Head to Head Statistics

Match Officials:
Referee: Andre Marriner (3M 13Y 0R)
Assistant Referees: P Kirkup, M Perry
Fourth Official: A Taylor

Broadcast Information:
UK: BT Sports; 19.45 BST
US: NBC Sports Extra 2:45 PM EST

YAMA Predictions:
Arsenal 2 – 1 Southampton

Match Facts (courtesy FourFourTwo)

  • Arsenal are unbeaten in their last nine Barclays Premier League games against Southampton (W5 D4).
  • Ronald Koeman’s side have already won at the Emirates this season in the Capital One Cup (2-1).
  • Olivier Giroud has scored three goals in his last two Premier League games against the Saints.
  • The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 19 home league games against the Saints (W14 D5).
  • Arsene Wenger has come up against Ronald Koeman on seven occasions, winning just one match, drawing four and losing two.
  • Arsenal have been trailing at some point in five of their six Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium this season.
  • Nathaniel Clyne has found the net in two of this last three appearances against Arsenal at the Emirates, the winner in the Capital One Cup this season and an own goal in a 1-6 defeat in the league in September 2012.
  • Defeat to Man Utd last time out ended a run of 23 home league games without defeat for the Gunners, but they have now won just one of the last five (W1 D3 L1) at the Emirates in the PL.
  • Arsenal have attempted more shots (excl. blocked) from outside the box than any other Premier League side this season (70).
  • Southampton’s three PL defeats this season have all come against sides that finished in the top six of the 2013-14 Premier League table (Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham). Arsenal finished fourth last season.

What are your thoughts on this match? Can Arsenal continue to move on and make something of this season? Who should start? What do you think the score will be? Let us know.

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