Arsenal v Southampton
Kick off: December 3rd, 2014 1945 GMT
Entering the last month of the calendar year with hope of getting points that would move us to sixth place wasn’t exactly in our summer plans but we can’t do anything about it. Our first league match in December is a mid-week fixture against the over-achievers Southampton. Ronald Koeman’s team come into town knowing that even if they lose to us, they’ll still remain three points ahead of us.
It’s not the first Saints visit to Emirates Stadium this season. In fact, they have already beaten us once on our own soil – goals from Tadić (penalty) and Clyne (a long range effort) completed a come-back after Alexis’ stunning free-kick. Of course, it should be said that Arsene Wenger didn’t field our best eleven in that match and youngsters Bellerin and Hayden – especially Bellerin – gave promising performances. That is the best part of the league cup – it offers a chance to the manager to give more playing time to youngsters in order to gain experience and back-up players to stay match fit.
We have beaten Southampton twice in the league since they returned to the top flight of English football – both times at home. In 2012-13, we won 6-1 and Lukas Podolski’s free-kick was the most beautiful moment of a game in which Southampton conceded two own-goals and two goals from Gervinho. The Saints gave us a tough match last term at the Emirates but Olivier Giroud’s brace left them empty-handed. Giroud’s first goal came after a terrible mistake by Artur Boruc while the Frenchman scored his second from the penalty spot thanks to the fact that Mark Clattenburg saw Fonte’s pull on Mertesacker’s shirt in the box.
If we had a better injury record, I would be more calm ahead of the match. Our left full-back position seems to be under the biggest question mark given that both Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs were injured against West Brom. If neither of them will be ready for Southampton, Mathieu Flamini might start as a stand in left back. We have suffered a lot from that side of the defence in recent years, mostly due to either having incompetent full-backs (Andre Santos, Armand Traore) or make-shift ones (Vermaelen, Coquelin). Kieran Gibbs is the best option we have so I hope he’ll be the one that will play against The Saints.
Damian Martinez will go for a hat-trick – he has kept a clean sheet two times in a row and will be looking for the third one against Southampton. He has looked very, very decent last week so there is no reason why he can’t maintain the same level of performance today.
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Even if Mathieu Debuchy is close to his return, it’s Calum Chambers that will probably take the spot on the right side of our defence. I’ve already mentioned Bellerin’s promising performance in the Capital One Cup though and it’s not that unrealistic an option – Chambers has played a lot this term and might need a rest while Bellerin has proven he can be relied on.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny should ideally lead our defence, with a slight possibility that either the German or the Frenchman get some rest in favour of Chambers.
Mathieu Flamini will probably start as our defensive midfielder. In case Wenger doesn’t get green light for either of our left full-backs, Flamini might be switched to that position with Tomas Rosicky taking his place in the middle of the pitch. This however, will leave our defense vulnerable to a quick counter attack from the Saints.
Aaron Ramsey will be next to Flamini unless, of course, Wenger decides to start with Rosicky there.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a doubt so either Alexis or Welbeck might start down the right wing.
Santi Cazorla should keep his good form down the middle.
Danny Welbeck might get more defensive duties in case we have to settle for Flamini as our left full-back.
Olivier Giroud has scored in his last two outings against Southampton so he might try to keep that fine tradition alive.
It’s going to be a very difficult match even if they have Morgan Schneiderlin out due to injury. Still, Southampton have suffered against big teams this term – they lost their last match against Manchester City at home despite having an extra player following Mangala’s red card but instead of turning the game around, they were knocked out by The Citizens.
I’d say we’ll win 2:1 with Welbeck continuing his goal-scoring sequence and Aaron Ramsey’s late strike to give us three points with Graziano Pelle scoring an equalizer for The Saints.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 23 Sep 2014 Arsenal FC 1 – Southampton 2
Premier League (EPL) 28 Jan 2014 Southampton 2 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 23 Nov 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Southampton 0
Premier League (EPL) 1 Jan 2013 Southampton 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 15 Sep 2013 Arsenal FC 6 – Southampton 1
Chambers Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Gibbs
Alexis Cazorla Welbeck
Arsenal 2 v 1 Southampton