Southampton — Arsenal (Premier League)
The leaders of the Premier League turn south to face Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday. The visit will be a tricky one, though. There’s been a while since the Saints had a taste of straight wins and they’ll be reluctant to let it go. It’s game on!
The reverse fixture was a 2-0 victory for the Gunners, and opened a dark period for the Saints. In mid-November they were third place, right after Arsenal and Liverpool, the sensation team of the Premier League season. And then all went sour. Three consecutive losses, two stalemates, another defeat, and a major drop down the table. 2014 brought Mauricio Pochettino’s men a fresh start. Their last failure was against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, unbeaten since. And they’ll be hoping to continue in that path.
Southampton are 9th, with 31 points, 7 clear of the bottom-half of the table. But clearly their ambitions are set higher. Newcastle and Manchester United are just two victories away. It’s paramount they keep the eyes on the prize.
Rickie Lambert and Artur Boruc should be ready to return to action. This could also be Wanyama’s first selection since early December, following a calf injury. Dejan Lovren and Gastón Ramirez are ruled out. Pablo Osvaldo has been suspended by the club after a training incident with Fonte. Rumours put him on his way to Italy or West Ham.
Probable line-up: Davis — Clyne, Hooiveld, Fonte, Shaw — Schneiderlin, Cork — Steven Davies, Lallana, Rodriguez — Lambert.
January the 28th. Against all odds and scepticism Arsenal are still at the top of the Premier League. They are yet to lose a match since that awful Manchester City business in mid-December, heading now to attempt their eight straight victory. Securing the three points at Southampton would keep them as number one for a while longer, possibly even buy them some distance to their closest followers. Chelsea losing at home to West Ham is not the most probable outcome but Spurs will surely try to regain some dignity back hosting City. A powerful incentive.
And it’s not just the League, the Gunners are still in the race for the FA Cup and Champions League trophies. With ties and injuries pilling up in Christmas period the lack of depth in the squad was made even more visible. Players like Giroud, Ramsey and Wilshere were fielded until their bodies broke. A title contender needs more options, it’s vital for Arsenal to get some surgical reinforcements. Otherwise they won’t be able to resist City and Chelsea’s strikes. The season is still far from ending and now starts the definitive run. In the next three weeks they will go against Southampton, Liverpool (both in the League and FA Cup), United and Bayern Munich. How’s that for a short-term schedule?
Oxlade-Chamberlain made his return from a long-term injury in the match against Coventry and he will need a couple more fixtures to gain pace. Visiting a former club is always special but he should start on the bench. Podolski made quite a statement on Friday, score two of Arsenal’s four hits. Will that earn him a spot in the starting XI?
Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Thomas Vermaelen should be in contention. Abou Daiby and Theo Walcott are the long-term absentees.
Probable line-up: Szczesny — Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs — Wilshere, Flamini — Gnabry, Ozil, Cazorla — Giroud.
The Gunners were unbeaten in 9 of the last 10 fixtures against the Saints. You would have to go back to 2002 to register Southampton wining the three points. Will this be another notch in the belt for Arsenal or will the Southerners get a surprising success?