Southampton vs Arsenal: Match preview
Stadium: St. Mary’s Stadium
Referee: Lee Probert
Kick-off: 11:00 PM (IST), Tuesday, 1st of January
Fresh from their sensational win against Newcastle at the Emirates, Arsenal travel to relegation threatened Southampton to take on the side they beat 6 – 1 in the reverse fixture early in the season. The Gunners currently sit fifth in the table, just 3 points behind city rivals Tottenham, although they do have a game in hand with the postponement of their boxing day fixture against West Ham. With a vastly superior goal difference, Arsene Wenger will be quietly confident of sliding into the final Champions League spot sooner rather than later, and a win against Southampton is crucial to the cause.
The Saints, on the other hand, have been extremely unlucky this season, and will hope that the new year brings a change in fortunes. With plenty of goals scored, it is their joint second-worst defence in the league that has let them down time and again, as they now find themselves mired in a relegation battle. A win here would likely put them a couple of points above the drop zone, with tough fixtures for Wigan and Aston Villa, and exact some sweet revenge for their defeat in the reverse fixture.
Southampton: L W L D D
With just one win in their last five league games, things haven’t been going too well for Nigel Adkins’ side, and it shows with their position in the league table. The results tell only half the tale of an attack-minded Soton side though, who have played reasonably good football this season. In fact, over the weekend, they became the first team to score more than once at Stoke’s home stadium, before throwing away a 3 goal advantage to settle for a 3 – 3 draw. Thus, there are encouraging signs for the home team going into this fixture up front, but ghastly concerns at the back.
Arsenal: W L W W W
Four league wins on the trot have seen the Gunners come into contention for a European spot slightly earlier than they did last season. While they have kept clean sheets in two of those games, they have conceded five in the other two, and another two to Swansea in the preceding game. Thus, while their attack has come to the fore over the past few fixtures, it is too early to take it for granted, as a poor outing always seems to be around the corner for this side from London. Against a creaky Soton defence though, their firepower should be sufficient to see them stave off any real challenge from the home side.
Southampton: Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne.
Arsenal: Andre Santos, Vassiriki Abou Diaby, Lukasz Fabianski, Ignasi Miquel, Per Mertesacker.
A well taken hat-trick against Newcastle took Walcott’s tally for the season up to 8 goals in the Premier League this season, along with six assists, two of which also came against the Toon. The Englishman now has a total of 7 goals and 6 assists in his last 8 games in all competitions for Arsenal, making him on of the most in-form players in the league. Playing him as a striker up front has paid rich dividend for Wenger, with a penalty being earned in the game before as well, and there seems no reason for that to change.
One of only two players to have made an appearance in every league game for Soton this season, the English striker also took his tally to eight goals over the weekend, in addition to creating opportunities for both other goals to be scored. Playing with enviable calm in the most impossible scenarios, Lambert is like a more energetic version of Dimitar Berbatov, and a good bet to score his third goal in three games.
Although responsible for deflecting Ba’s free kick into his own net with questionable defensive tactics, Jack Wilshere showed excellent play with the ball at his feet, and notched his first telling contribution for the season with an assist. The young starlet has slowly been regaining the form that made him one of the most threatening attackers in the world since his return, and his performance of a box-to-box role is marvellously executed.
Goals to be scored from both sides. With all the criticism of the Southampton defence, it is easy to forget how Arsenal’s own has been blowing hot and cold this season. Three fairly soft goals were conceded at the weekend, and although they may have overwhelmed Newcastle at home, they will face a completely different atmosphere if they concede the lead to Southampton at St. Mary’s. It may thus become crucial for Arsenal to score first in this encounter, which promises plenty.