Southampton Preview: Time to the Saints in their Place
The defeat against Manchester United was followed with a timely international break that saw Arsenal’s French contingent qualify to the 2014 World Cup which will definitely spur them on to better performances as the campaign progresses. Four years ago, Russia’s failure to qualify for the soccer fiesta saw Andrey Arshavin put up some appalling performances as he lost some “motivation” following his nation’s playoff loss to Slovenia. The next set of international fixtures takes place next Spring so there’s a lot of club football to look forward to.
Despite the narrow loss to Manchester United, Arsenal remain two points clear at the top with Liverpool and surprisingly, today’s opponents, Southampton, breathing down the Gunners’ necks. This fixture presents the Gunners a perfect opportunity to consolidate their position at the top of the table and a victory will go a long way in restoring confidence back to the team in the run-in.
Notwithstanding, I must confess that Mauricio Pochettino has done a marvelous job here bearing in mind that the team struggled badly in the Premier League under Nigel Adkins after he had secured back to back promotions from the lower divisions in English football. Pochettino was a no-nonsense defender in his playing days and he has adapted a strong defensive approach on his team.
His water-tight defense has leaked only eight goals this season, which is the best defensive record in the Premier League and the second best defensive record in Europe, as they are just behind the phenomenal AS Roma. Under the reins of former LOSC Lille Metropole gaffer, Rudi Garcia, AS Roma has been transformed to a dominant force in the Serie A and they even helped the Gunners get Gervinho off their books, but it’s good to see Yao Kouassi flourishing in the Italian capital.
Following Arsenal’s defeat at Old Trafford, Southampton is currently the most in-form team in the Premier League and in their last six games, they have won three (Swansea, Fulham and Hull), drawn two (Stoke and Manchester United) and one defeat (Sunderland). They have also faced fewer shots on target than any other side in the Premier League this season (31).
Pochettino’s starting lineup doesn’t have so many household names, but as a unit, they have become a force to be reckoned with this season. Artur Boruc was released from AC Fiorentina and found a new lease of life in the Premier League outfit. This season, he has produced outstanding performances on a weekly basis and he has also piled up a couple of clean sheets. His defense also do their bit as Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren have become a formidable defensive pairing while the energetic youngsters, Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne bomb forward to support the attack.
In midfield, the signing of Victor Wanyama from Celtic was a stroke of genius by Pochettino as the Kenyan enforcer alongside French sensation, Morgan Schneiderlein, are responsible for closing down opposition players further up the pitch, a tactic that has worked wonders for the saints this season. In attack, Adam Lallana has massively improved and he recently earned his first England cap in the loss to Germany. James Ward-Prowse, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert (he has been involved in seven goals thus far) have also contributed to the team’s cause this season.
Southampton now have the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League (eight games) but they were whooped convincing (6 – 1) by the Gunners last season and Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 18 league home games against the Saints. Arsenal have not lost a home league game against Southampton since November 1987, winning 13 and drawing five of their 18 matches since. Southampton’s win ratio against Arsenal in the Premier League (14 percent) is the lowest of any side they’ve played more than three times in the competition
The Gunners may have had a blip in their last Premier League encounter, but their form hasn’t been so impressive with three wins (Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Dortmund (away)) and three defeats (Chelsea, Dortmund (home) and Man Utd). The Gunners have not failed to score in two successive Premier League games since August 2012 and the Gunners have the chance to win five successive Premier League games at the Emirates for the first time since April 2012.
To injury news, Arsenal would have the services of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott but the winger is going to be on the bench and I hope we won’t have to bring him on except in conditions when the Gunners are chasing the game. Aaron Ramsey will also return to full fitness as he missed Wales’ fixture last week. Per Mertesacker has recovered from the virus that struck him before the Manchester United game but Tomas Rosicky could miss out.
The regular absentees, Yaya Sanogo (back), Lukas Podolski (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby (both knee) all remain sidelined.
For the visitors, Jack Cork will miss Southampton’s trip to the capital due to an ankle injury. He twisted his ankle badly, although it is unclear how much longer he faces out. Guly do Prado is also absent after undergoing a knee operation, while Gaston Ramirez’s fitness will be checked after arriving back from international duty with Uruguay on Friday lunchtime. Gaston Ramirez could face a late fitness test while Dani Osvaldo is expected to be fit despite suffering an allergic reaction on international duty.
To team news, Wojciech Szczesny would want to mark his new deal with a clean sheet and he’ll also be mindful of the game as it was his howler against the Saints that ended the Gunners’ impregnable clean sheet record at the start of last season. Even if Laurent Koscielny cocked up for France last weekend, I’d expect him to play alongside the Big F*cking Giant, Per Mertesacker, relegating skipper, Thomas Vermaelen, to the bench. Kieran Gibbs had a cameo against Germany while Bacary Sagna had a handful of minutes in the match against Ukraine so they’ll be fresh for the encounter.
In midfield, I’d expect a better performance from that horrid showing at Old Trafford. Mathieu Flamini the Flanimal will be suspended for this game after picking up five bookings and he’s odds on to be replaced in the middle by the red-hot Aaron Ramsey, that has netted 11 times in 18 competitive appearances for Arsenal this season, this after scoring 11 in his previous 150 competitive appearances for the club before this campaign.
The Gunners would also want the GODZILLA combination (GiroUD, oZIL and carzoLA) has to step up the plate today as all three put up lethargic performances at Old Trafford.
My expected lineups would be,
Enjoy the game wherever you are.
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