Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Arsenal v Southampton: Premier League Preview

It's back to Premier League action tonight for Arsenal when Southampton pay a visit to the Emirates Stadium. With the team currently in third place every game could be seen as a must win game, but this one most certainly is. The last three games were all tough tests, but the return of two points from them wasn't good enough for a team with title ambitions.

They have three points to make up on a Leicester side who are facing a very tough three game run which culminates in a trip to Arsenal on Valentine's Day. City are only ahead of Arsenal on goal difference, but with Sergio Aguero back and firing on all cylinders they are title favourites. As good as City can be they still haven't won back to back league games since mid October and it will be interesting to see how the players react to the news that Manuel Pellagrini will be on his bike at the end of the season.

For all the ins and outs of the two teams ahead of them Arsenal's fate is in their own hands and they can go out and win the title themselves. I suppose we have to take Spurs into consideration at this stage too as they're only two points behind Arsenal and City, but surely they're only one dodgy lasagne away from having the bottom fall out of their world or vice versa. To be fair to Spurs they have been very consistent and have looked the part, but I still think they will fall away.

From a selection perspective Arsene Wenger isn't quite spoiled for choice yet, but he certainly has more options than he has had in a while. The returns of both Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin were huge boosts to the team and I would be surprised if they didn't both start tonight. The boss made nine changes for the FA Cup win over Burnley on Saturday and I would expect him to make seven tonight.

Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin will all come in at the back and I suspect Per Mertesacker will get the nod ahead of Gabriel Paulista. Gabriel is certainly the man for the future, but Mertesacker is still first choice for the boss at the moment whether us fans agree with that or not. Gabriel had his dodgy moments on Saturday and Laurent Koscielny wasn't too steady at times either, but it seems Mertesacker is always the one to take the rap when Arsenal fail at the back.

Mesut Ozil will obviously return as will Aaron Ramsey with Olivier Giroud keeping his place down the middle. The last choice for the boss will be who plays in the other wide role and it's a straight choice between Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi as outside bets. I think Campbell will get the nod as he's the form player of the two although I still think Walcott is the bigger goal threat. The great chance he missed with virtually the last kick against Burnley could have been just what he needed if he had managed to put it away.

Southampton are in good form at the moment and they have won their last three league games without conceding a goal including their victory away to United last weekend. If Arsenal are anywhere off their best they could be punished tonight by a team who have already beaten them 4-0 in the league this season. Surely that result must give the players the impetus they need to give it their all tonight and take the three points.

I think it will be a close game, but Arsenal have the class of Ozil and Sanchez to call on and that should make the difference. If they can make up ground on either or both of Leicester and City that would be great with those two playing each other at the weekend and Arsenal away to Bournemouth. It's getting to the business end of the season and Arsenal need to show that they mean business from here on in.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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