An intriguing midday clash takes place on the south coast this Sunday, as Southampton take on Arsenal. The Saints are marooned in mid-table, having only won two of their last ten Premier League matches, whilst Arsenal’s lack of ruthlessness in the big games is a contributing factor to their disappointing current position of fifth.
Southampton’s performances last season were generally perceived to be dull and uninspired and it seems that hangover has continued into this campaign. Their last three games have given reason for encouragement though. A thumping victory over Everton was followed by a desperately unlucky injury-time defeat to Man City. Their excellent second half showing against Bournemouth earned them a deserved point last Sunday.
Arsenal picked up fine wins against Tottenham and Burnley in November, but their last Premier League result was a crushing disappointment. Despite dominating their home fixture against Manchester United, a combination of David De Gea’s brilliance and shoddy defending led to a 3-1 defeat. Thursday’s 6-0 win in the Europa League against BATE Borisov will have boosted their confidence though.
Charlie Austin has struggled to break into the Southampton first team since he signed in January 2016. However, new manager Mauricio Pellegrino has given him a chance recently and he has repaid that faith. Two thumping headers against Everton were swiftly followed by an excellent sweeping finish in last week’s south coast derby. A striker who is not afraid to put himself about, Arsenal’s defenders will need to be on their toes to keep him at bay.
Mesut Ozil is a player who oozes class but Arsenal fans have sensed that his mind has been elsewhere recently. However, an extraordinary performance against Huddersfield last Wednesday showed that he can still produce at the highest level. A fine goal was preceded by two glorious assists, all within the space of five minutes. If he finds that form again on Sunday, Southampton may have no answer.
Shane Long and Cedric Soares are Southampton’s two main injury concerns ahead of the clash at St Mary’s. Long has a calf issue whilst Soares limped off towards the end of his team’s 2-1 defeat to City last Wednesday with a hamstring problem. The latter may well be replaced by summer signing Jeremy Pied at right-back.
Shkodran Mustafi picked up a thigh injury in the first ten minutes of last week’s clash against Manchester United and he is a doubt for the weekend game. Apart from the luckless Santi Cazorla, Arsenal have no other injury concerns. After his fine performance against BATE in midweek though, could Jack Wilshere replace Granit Xhaka in central midfield?
Arsenal won both of their Premier League fixtures against the Saints in 2016/17 and given how both team’s seasons have gone so far, the Gunners look likely to make it three in a row. Southampton don’t tend to concede many goals though, so expect Arsenal to have to fight hard for a victory.