Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Southampton

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, September 15
10:00 a.m. EDT, 3:00 p.m. BST

  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Charles Breakspear and John Flynn
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 2 - 2 Southampton (October 30, 2004)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 42 Arsenal wins, 16 Southampton wins, 22 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-D-W // D-D-W
  • Southampton's League Form: W-L-W // L-L-L
Arsenal have suffered some mystifying results when
possibly underestimating their opponent, such as the 2-1
home loss to Wigan in April. Photo: Daily Mail.
Well, the long and cold international break is finally over and it's time for football again. I personally will still having some withdrawals, as weddings will preclude me from attending a match at the Blind Pig until the Chelsea game at the end of the month. On a similar note, if anyone knows where we can watch the Manchester City game at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday in Syracuse, New York, that'd be great.

I know that's a bit of a digression from what this post should be about, so allow me to get back on track by seemingly going even further on a tangent. Last year, after Arsenal beat Tottenham 5-2, I wrote a post about how many points Arsenal needed to collect over their final games of the season in order to clinch Champions League football. In analyzing their remaining fixtures at that point, I looked at the averages of how many points Arsenal's opponents had picked up at home or away. But, I argued, you had to take Arsenal's own home/away record into account as well, because Wigan at home should be easier than QPR away.

It turned out that those, the two earmarked "easiest" fixtures, remain the only two Arsenal losses since crashing out of the FA Cup in February. Why am I bringing this up? Because it illustrates the point of the "trap game."

A trap game occurs when a team underestimates the abilities of their opponents, underperforms, and gets a shocking negative result. Arsenal have gone 270 minutes so far this season without conceding a goal. Just as the team started gelling together, the players parted for international duty. Now they're back, with a Champions League match, Manchester City, and Chelsea on the docket of upcoming matches. If there's ever a match you could possibly overlook in a situation like that, it's newly promoted Southampton at home.

Over the last four seasons, Arsenal have picked up a full six points from just three of the twelve promoted sides (West Brom in 2008/09 before they yo-yo'ed down and up again, Wolves in 2009/10, and Blackpool in 2010/11.) Arsenal have lost at home three times to a newly promoted side (Hull City in 2008/09, West Brom the second time around in 2010/11 and Newcastle that same year) and Norwich got a point at the Emirates last year, even though by May it was harder to remember that the mid-table Canaries were newly promoted.

I don't mean to be so oddly pessimistic, but Arsenal cannot afford to underestimate Southampton. The Saints have already given Manchester City and United fits this season before ultimately coming up empty. It's been said too many times, but there needs to be "mental toughness" (I'm sorry.) It's too early in the season to have that "same old Arsenal" feeling about dropping points unnecessarily. These three points count just as much in the table as the three up for grabs against Manchester City next week, so let's get them.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Fabianski (shoulder), Rosicky (Achilles), Sagna (broken leg), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (foot)
Doubts: Diaby (knock), Walcott (virus), Chamakh (virus)

Okay. Everyone hope really really really hard that
Diaby is okay. Photo: FourFourTwo.
I'm very much enjoying this "team news on Thursday" thing Arsenal has been doing this season, as it allows me to, you know, actually prepare this section accurately every week.

Much of the Arsenal injury discussion during the international break centered around Abou Diaby, who scored for France in their first World Cup qualifier, but then was sent back to Arsenal with a muscular problem. For a player that has been injured 956 times since 2006, the news was worrying, but it sounds like it was just a precaution and the lanky midfielder is officially 50/50 for Saturday. With some moderate fixture congestion ahead, I suspect he'll be rested on Saturday. He may even be further rested against Montpellier midweek to ensure that he's raring to go against City a week later.

I'd be keen to rest Thomas Vermaelen as well, since he left the Liverpool game with a knock, then played 180 minutes for Belgium. He also hasn't had the best history with injuries, mind you, and for once, Arsenal has depth at center back. Give the armband to Mikel Arteta this week.

Wojciech Szczesny is back after a rib injury, so I would expect the Pole to start, dropping Vito Mannone and his two clean sheets to the bench. Lukasz Fabianski returned from international duty with a shoulder injury and is out.

Theo Walcott missed England's 1-1 draw with Ukraine with a virus and faces a late fitness test. Marouane Chamakh, who still plays for Arsenal, missed Morocco's 2-0 loss to 109th ranked Mozambique with a virus as well, though reports that that virus is malaria appear to be wide of the mark.

In terms of long term injuries, Emmanuel Frimpong looks to be the first to return to training, with Jack Wilshere not far behind him (both should be within the next two weeks.) Bacary Sagna is about two weeks away and Tomas Rosicky is three.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho, Giroud.

Southampton Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Fox (groin), De Ridder (calf), Cork (ankle)

My search for Luke Shaw to Arsenal
rumors led me to this. I don't know,
it looks pretty legit to me...
Left back Danny Fox may not be fit with a groin injury, opening the door for 17-year-old Luke Shaw to get his first career start. Shaw has been highly touted, and has been linked with a move to Arsenal in the past, according to the Daily Echo, though I don't specifically remember that. Shaw could have to face the likes of Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on that wing, both former Southampton players. Of course, Theo might still be sick, and I have the Ox starting in the midfield in my prediction, so he might also get to face someone else. Or, Fox might be fit after all. HA HA! CONJECTURE!

Ex-Chelsea midfielder Jack Cork has been resting an ankle injury he suffered in the pre-season, but is close to returning. Steve de Ridder is a doubt with a calf injury.

Expected to be available are two new players who were not registered in time to face Manchester United two weeks ago: Gaston Ramirez and Maya Yoshida.

Current Form

This came up when I did a Google search for
"current form"
... as you can see, Arsenal is... invading Spain...
Arsenal come into the match with just two goals in three matches this season, but without any conceded either. For a while there, it looked like there just weren't going to be any goals in all 38 matches. And that begs the question: would a team with 38 points and an even goal differential get relegated? In most seasons, it would be enough points to stay up, though in 2011, both Birmingham and Blackpool were relegated with 39.

As I mentioned in the opening, Arsenal's only losses since crashing out of the FA Cup came against QPR and Wigan. In that time period (starting with the 5-2 over Spurs,) over 17 matches, the Gunners have won 10 and drawn five. They have scored 31 goals and conceded 14. Robin van Persie had nine of those 31, which is less than 30%. If you remove his goals from the record entirely, Arsenal still would have won nine of those 10 wins (that number does include the Liverpool game two weeks ago, so really, think of it as eight out of nine from the end of last season.) The one win that turns into a loss without van Persie's goals was the 2-1 win at Liverpool in March, and if I recall correctly, Arsenal has already bettered that result this season...

Southampton have zero points from three league matches this season, though they have put up the good fight. They held second half leads over Manchester City and Manchester United, yet were kept off the score sheet at home in a 2-0 loss to Wigan. They do have a win over Stevenage in the Capital One Cup to their credit this year. The Saints get a bit leaky as the game wears on; they have conceded six times in the final 20 minutes of matches this season.

Match Facts

A five-year old Cesc Fabregas celebrates Arsenal's injury
time equalizer against Southampton at Highbury in 2004.
Photo: Talk Sport.
Southampton were last in the Premier League in the 2004/05 season, when they finished bottom of the table, though their relegation was not secured until the final day of the season. In that year, Southampton drew both of their matches with Arsenal.

At Highbury in late October, Arsenal scored first through Thierry Henry in the 67th minute, after the Frenchman had earlier missed a penalty. Southampton stormed back to take a 2-1 lead through two headed goals by Rory Delap in the 80th and 85th minutes. Arsenal got an injury time equalizer from Robin van Persie; it was his first Premier League goal. The match ended 2-2.

As you've probably read all over the Interwebz lately, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp also opened their Arsenal goal scoring accounts (in terms of league goals) against Southampton, which clearly indicates that Olivier Giroud will either score five goals tomorrow or he'll turn out to be the worst signing in team history. There is no middle ground on the Internet.

The reverse fixture at St. Mary's in that season was a wild bloodbath. Around the half hour mark, van Persie was lucky only to see a yellow card when he elbowed Delap. Southampton's David Prutton was then sent off for a second yellow just before halftime, flying into a wild challenge on Robert Pires, who had to be carried off. Arsenal took a 1-0 lead two minutes later via Freddie Ljungberg.

Ah, but both sides would be on ten men after 52nd minute, because, as Harry Redknapp, manager of Southampton said at the time, "they had a stupid player on their side as well." That player was van Persie, who was sent off for clattering into Graeme Le Saux. Peter Crouch had Southampton's equalizer in the 67th minute. That match ended 1-1.

Southampton's last win at Arsenal came on November 21, 1987.

The Referee

You should make up your own captions for this...
Photo: Sunderland.
The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Friend did not work any Arsenal matches last year and has only taken charge of two Gunners matches in his career, both in January-February of 2011. They were the 3-0 Arsenal win over Wigan at the Emirates (in which he sent off Gary Caldwell) and the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Leyton Orient.

Even though Friend worked matches in both the Premier League and the Championship last season, he did not take charge of any Southampton matches either. His last game in the middle involving the Saints was a 3-1 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion in League One on November 15, 2009.

Friend has been a Select Group referee since the start of the 2009/10 season and worked this summer's FA Community Shield, a 3-2 Manchester City win over Chelsea, in which he sent off Branislav Ivanovic.

Around the League

A surprisingly high number of matches kick-off in the standard 3:00 p.m. England time slot, meaning in the United States, Arsenal is being bumped off live television. Apparently, Chelsea (who are at QPR in a West London derby) and Manchester United (who host Wigan Athletic) get better ratings, or something. Manchester City aren't even televised live in the U.S.; they are at Stoke in the same time slot. Also playing at that time: Aston Villa hosts Swansea and Fulham hosts West Brom. That's six simultaneous matches, four of which involve teams playing in this year's Champions League.

Presumably that scheduling has something to do with the Champions League starting this week, so the league avoided moving these teams to Sunday games. So, enjoy your Sunday match, Tottenham Hotspur! They are away to Reading. Saturday's early match sees Norwich City host West Ham at Carrow Road, and the late game features Liverpool at the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland. There's one Monday match this week, as Everton hosts Newcastle at Goodison Park.

The reverse of these fixtures will be played in a midweek round and are all currently scheduled for New Year's Day, a Tuesday.