Arsenal v Southampton
Barclays Premier League
Kickoff: December 3rd, 2014 1945 GMT
It’s that time of the year again. December means the festive season, and the festive season means an absolute glut of Premier League football. Arsenal face Southampton in the midweek fixture, which will kick off late tomorrow. Fresh off a hard fought win against the Baggies in an away game, the Gunners will be looking to capitalise on their home victory against Dortmund and secure a further three points in the League with a victory tomorrow.
The Saints meanwhile face a very tough series of fixtures. After the 3-0 loss against City over the weekend, they travel to the Emirates before facing United this weekend. Under Ronald Koeman, Southampton have looked even stronger than they did last season; but as Manchester City showed they are not unbeatable. Last time the two teams met was in the Capital One Cup this season when Southampton knocked us out, so it would not do to underestimate them, whatever the circumstances.
As part of the buildup to the game, we have invited the popular Southampton blogger Chris Rann onto the site to answer a few questions. Chris, who blogs for ESPN and also runs the site George Weah’s Cousin, gave us his opinion of the game and also answered several other questions that we had.
What led you to support your club?
Funnily enough it all really started after a game against Arsenal! I’m from the Isle of Wight, so Saints are one of the ‘local’ teams but like most 80’s kids I flirted with Liverpool, Everton etc. After the ’88 cup final though I knew I had an affinity with the underdog and a trip to the Dell in December 1992 sealed the deal. Saints won 2-0 and Ian Wright missed a penalty!
How do you feel the season has gone so far for Southampton?
It’s been fantastic, and it is difficult to argue with the suggestion that we have thus far ‘overachieved’. We are 3rd on merit though and after the much reported ‘disastrous’ summer it looks like we might have come through it with a better team!
What are your ambitions for this season?
I’d like to see us build on this start and finish as high as possible, anywhere 8th or higher is an achievement in my book. Maybe throw in the League Cup for good measure!
Are you looking forward to the game against Arsenal, and why/why not?
Yes and No. The way we’ve been playing and the fact we have already won at the Emirates this season says we should not go there with fear, but we were humbled by Manchester City on Sunday and the loss of Morgan Schneiderlin to injury is massive.
Who is your most in-form player at present?
Before the last two games I would have said Dusan Tadic, or Graziano Pelle but both have gone off the boil a bit. Victor Wanyama has been immense in central midfield and seems to improve with every passing week. Nathaniel Clyne has been superb at right back and Toby Alderweireld looks to be a solid signing at centre half.
What threat do they pose?
If you let him Wanyama will completely impose himself and boss your midfield, he is like a bully in the way that he outmuscles opposition players and he is like a brick wall in front of the back four. Alderweireld is a composed defender who plays like nothing requires any effort, and Clyne converts defence to attack with his pace on the right.
What is Southampton’s biggest strength?
We are very strong defensively and a lot of teams have looked nowhere near scoring against us, we have a great team spirit and work rate. Add all that to the ability to play some pretty nice football and you can see why people have been impressed.
The goals have started to dry up a bit and a lot of the squad are starting to look jaded. If we have a major weakness it is not having strong enough backup and having to rely on particular players all the time.
Who are you most worried about facing in this Arsenal side?
Obvious answer I guess but it has to be Alexis Sanchez. It looks like he has taken to the Premier League with ease and is already one of the top performers. Keep him quiet and we have every chance.
What is your favorite memory facing the Gunners?
Other than that first ever game the good memories are few and far between, and usually involve being terrorised by Ian Wright, but one standout memory for any Saints fan will be the last ever competitive game at the Dell and Matthew Le Tissier’s (who else?) volleyed winner. Also the 2003 cup final, we didn’t win but it was a special day.
How will your side lineup?
Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand, Wanyama, Cork, Davis, Tadic, Mane, Pelle is my guess.
What is your predicted score?
I’m going to be optimistic and back the team to bounce back with a positive result. 1-1.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes, I was really disappointed to see the banner asking Arsene Wenger to leave. No matter whether you think Wenger should go or not, and I can see both points of view; his achievements at your club deserve more respect than that!
Chris not pulling any punches there, but he does have a point. A whole host of Arsenal players, both past and present, have spoken out in favour of the manager recently and with the board firmly behind him, any dissent among the fans makes no sense, at least for the time being.
Getting back to the game, both teams have injury problems going in, Arsenal’s are well known and Southampton have just lost our transfer target Morgan Schneiderlin to an injury. Their players will also be suffering from some degree of fatigue as was evident against the Citizens, and it is up to us to capitalise on that. We also have to be more defensively vigilant, the Saints are well known for their attacking prowess and can break with incredible speed if given the opportunity.
Ultimately it is a home game for us, also we come into the game on the back of a win and with the attached confidence of that result. Wenger played two strikers against West Brom; playing them against Southampton will signal his intent and allow us to attack from the get go. Our tactics work best if we get an early goal so that has to be top priority. At no time should we allow the Saints to run at us with the ball, especially down the flanks, where they have been so dangerous this season.
Ideally, we should pick up the three points and look to break into the Champions League spots before Christmas but Southampton are certainly no pushovers and I suppose I could settle for a draw like Chris predicts. Let’s hope for a good game tomorrow! Once again, massive thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions.