Preview by Numbers: Southampton v. Arsenal

St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Tuesday, January 1
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Probert
    • Assistants: Ron Ganfield and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Mike Jones
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 6 - 1 Southampton
  • This Match, Last Time: Southampton 1 - 1 Arsenal (February 26, 2005)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 43 Arsenal wins, 16 Southampton wins, 22 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-L-W-W-W-W
  • Southampton's League Form: D-L-W-L-D-D
  • Weather: Clear, 6 °C / 43 °F
Happy New Year, Gooners!

2012 was a strange year, indeed. When it began, Arsenal had just scratched and clawed their way back into fourth place in the league, but they tumbled to seventh by February thanks to a lack of fit fullbacks. They embarrassingly crashed out of the FA Cup after falling behind so badly in the first leg of their Champions League knockout tie that it was too much from which to come back. Then, a 5-2 win over Spurs, and the hunt for the top four was truly on, and even with a little hiccup at the end, they finished third.

Then, this summer happened, and it's best not to talk about that. This season had a bright start to it, but some October and November doldrums introduced the pessimism again. So did losing on penalties to a fourth tier side. But since that match, Arsenal have ended 2012 with three league wins, running their Premier League winning streak to four.

So, now it's Lucky '13. And there's no better way to start the ball rolling than with three more points.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Santos (abdominal), Fabianski (shoulder), Diaby (thigh)
Doubts: Mertesacker (illness)

This extremely tall German fellow should be available.
It's January now and Arsenal haven't bought anybody yet! PANIC!

Okay, I might have jumped the gun a little bit there. Let's get back to the matter at hand and that's today's match with Southampton. It did not look like Arsenal lost anybody through injury against Newcastle on Saturday, but since that was a mere three days ago, you would have to think there could be some rotation of tired legs, right? Right?

Of course, who am I to know which sets of legs are the tired ones? Arsenal have a huge match with Swansea in the FA Cup at the weekend; I would very much like for them to be ready for it.

So, who might slip in, if there is rotation? I'm not going to venture any actual guesses, because I'll be wrong, but Per Mertesacker should be available again after illness, as should Tomas Rosicky in midfield. Will Olivier Giroud get a start after his two goal cameo on Saturday? Hard to say, considering he'd be positionally replacing Theo Walcott, who scored three. In addition, it's hard to think Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be dropped for a match against their former employer.

Southampton Squad News

Gaston Ramirez is back after
a long injury layoff.
Out: None
Doubts: Clyne (knock), Lallana (knee)

I hate it when the opponent does not have many injuries because 1) that means they have a full squad available to face Arsenal and 2) I don't  have enough to write about in this section. I don't mean to make it sound like I want the other team to be injured, though, so hopefully you understand the gist of what I'm saying here. In fact, really, what I'm doing here is attempting to ramble as much as possible.

As for actual team news, there are two players who face late fitness tests with knocks: defender Nathaniel Clyne and midfielder and captain Adam Lallana. Gaston Ramirez, who is actually named after the villain in Beauty and the Beast, returned last week from a six month injury layoff, was held out of the line-up at the weekend, and could return today.

Current Form

Theo Walcott is stuck in an invisible spider web.
Well, Arsenal's form is starting to turn around, clearly thanks to my superstitions that have been working (see the introduction to my last preview for more on that.) The Gunners have won four straight in the league for the first time this season (they had only had one two match winning streak earlier.) It's their longest league winning streak since a seven match run that was halted at QPR in March. And that's the kind of thing that makes you pause about a match like this one. That was against a relegation threatened team and Arsenal didn't really show up. There's always a fear of that kind of thing happening, because it's happened far too much in the past, and this match-up looks eerily similar to that one.

Southampton are sitting in the drop zone, in 18th place, but over their last nine league matches, they have only lost twice. Prior to that, Southampton had lost eight of their opening 10 league matches. Coupled with the two losses, they have drawn four and won three in their last nine. The Saints looked like they were comfortably on their way to being the first team since February to win at the Britannia this weekend. They led 3-1 at halftime, before Matthew Upson grabbed one back for Stoke. Minutes later, however, Stoke were reduced to ten men when Steven N'Zonzi was sent off. But, in the 90th minute, a brilliant goal from Cameron Jerome earned the Potters another home point.

Match Facts

Arsenal got a lovely brace from Own Goal in the reverse
fixture back in September.
Arsenal's 6-1 victory in the reverse fixture remains tied for their largest margin of victory of the season (recall they also beat Coventry 6-1 in the third round of the League Cup.) Arsenal opened the scoring in the 11th minute on that day, when a Kieran Gibbs cross was turned into the Southampton net by defender Jos Hooiveld. Just after the half hour mark, a Lukas Podolski free kick made it 2-0 to the good, and four minutes later, Gervinho added a third, and another own goal two minutes after that made it four. Southampton pinged one back just before the break, after a Wojciech Szczesny error gifted the ball to Daniel Fox, making it 4-1 at the half. Gervinho picked up a brace in the 71st, then Theo Walcott picked up a goal against his former club to close the scoring in the 88th.

My description of this corresponding fixture the last time it was played, from the preview of the reverse fixture in September, was "a wild bloodbath." Around the half hour mark, Robin van Persie was shown a yellow card when he should have seen red for elbowing Rory 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. But, both sides would be on ten men after the 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. The match ended 1-1 and effectively ended Arsenal's title hopes.

The Referee

He looks like he's trying
to eat his whistle.
The referee is Gloucestershire-based Lee Probert, and that's not great news for Arsenal. You probably know about Arsenal's struggles with certain referees in the recent past, specifically Mike Dean or Phil Dowd, or Howard Webb if you're at Old Trafford, but Arsenal's record with Probert is pretty poor, too.

Arsenal lost both matches with Probert last season and they lost their one match with Probert this year. Arsenal's last win with Lee Probert came in the third round of the Carling Cup in September of 2010, 4-1 in extra time over Tottenham Hotspur. Since then, they've drawn 2-2 at Wigan, lost 1-0 to Manchester City in last year's Carling Cup, lost 2-1 to Fulham last January 2, and lost to Norwich in October.

As for Southampton with Probert, they have seen him once and lost that match, 3-1 at Everton.

Around the League

Peter Crouch is also stuck in an invisible spider web.
Should we all be more wary of invisible spiders in the
coming new year?
This midweek round of fixtures include seven fixtures today and three more tomorrow. Today's matches, since it's a bank holiday, include a standard early fixture, late fixture (this one,) and five standard time slot games. Tomorrow, not a bank holiday, features three night games.

Today's early match might be tough for supporters who were out late celebrating the New Year. Fulham travels to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion, in what is a 7:45 a.m. kick-off here on the East Coast. As for the five "standard time slot" games, Manchester City hosts Stoke City at Eastlands; Stoke are now unbeaten in their last ten, having come from two goals down to draw Southampton at the weekend. Tottenham Hotspur hosts Reading at White Hart Lane, while Swansea hosts struggling Aston Villa in Wales, West Ham hosts Norwich in East London, and Wigan hosts Manchester United at the DW. Southampton v. Arsenal is, as mentioned, the late match.

As for tomorrow's matches, there are two at 2:45 p.m. Eastern / 7:45 p.m. in England, then one kicking off a quarter of an hour later. The two "earlier" games see Chelsea host QPR in a West London derby at the Bridge and Liverpool host Sunderland at Anfield. The "late" game has Newcastle hosting Everton.

The reverse of these fixtures was played the weekend of September 15-16.